By Kim Hofmann RD(SA)

Learning to stop eating when you are satisfied is one of the best tools you can have to lose weight or maintain lost weight.  Satiety is defined as the feeling of fullness that tells you to stop eating. If you have ever watched young children eat you may have noticed that they stop eating when they are satisfied, not because they have eaten a certain amount of calories or because their plates are empty.  Unfortunately as we get older the satiety signals become overturned by our eating habits, and are often dictated by our mouth instead of our body – ‘I have to eat everything on my plate’, ‘I love this food so much’ etc. etc.

Satiety works on feedback mechanisms based on a balance of hormonal and neurological signals.  When food enters the stomach and stretches the stomach wall, nerve stretch receptors send signals to the brain that food has arrived.  There are also numerous hormones that increase or decrease to let your brain know that you’ve eaten.  The problem is that these signals and hormones takes about 20 minutes to reach the brain.   We should therefore try to eat slowly and wait about 20 minutes before deciding to have seconds!

Satiety also requires mindfulness.  Mental and emotional satiety are just as important as physical satiety.  If you eat quickly and your mind is on work or the kids you will not have tasted your food, leaving you feeling ‘empty’ and wanting more. Mindful eating is about giving the food your full attention, letting all your senses enjoy the food and listening to how your body feels as you are eating.

Being aware of your satiety cues and responding to them correctly is important to understand how much you need to eat.  The signal can feels like physical satisfaction, disappearance of hunger, feeling energised.  One of my clients described it as getting bored with the food.  Every person experiences this signal differently, so you need to find out what to listen out for.

The hunger scale is a good tool to use to learn about your satiety.  Focus on how your body is feeling while you are eating.  Putting awareness into how you are feeling will help you become more sensitive to understanding when to stop eating.  Don’t fall into the trap of letting your mind decide how much you should eat.  If you listen to your body it will tell you when it has had enough.


The Hunger Scale

1. Starving, irritable, weak, dizzy

2. Really hungry

3-4. Normal hunger

5. No feeling

6-7. Satisfied

8. Full

9. Really Full

10. Stuffed, uncomfortably full

Eat when you are at level 3-4 and stop eating when you are at level 6-7.

Tips to help satiety awareness

  1. Drink a glass of water 10 minutes before your meal.  Firstly, you will quench any thirst (thirst is often mistaken for hunger), and secondly your brain will then get the message within 10 minutes of starting to eat that food has arrived.
  2. Put your fork down between bites to slow down your eating.
  3. Serve less food on your plate.
  4. Once you feel full, take your plate to the kitchen so that you are not tempted to continue eating.