In our search for magic bullets and quick fixes, we often overlook the simple approaches that work. I read a quote in Tools of Titans that summed this up perfectly: “the secrets of life are hidden behind the word cliché.” Think about the clichés we hear often and dismiss: ‘eat more vegetables’, ‘be consistent’, ‘you are what you eat’, ‘exercise regularly’, etc. Eating to 80% full is another simple cliché that can help us lose weight. You don’t need to buy a ‘fat burner’ supplement or pay for the latest fad diet secrets to get the benefits. All you need to do is stop eating when satisfied instead of full. Let’s take a look at why this is important and how to do it.
Why Eating to 80% Full Works
It takes about 20 minutes from the time you start eating for your brain to tell you it’s full. Because of the delayed signal, you feel fuller 20 minutes after finishing your meal. That means if you eat until 100% full you’re actually overeating. And the difference in calories consumed can be significant, as we’ll see in the following study.
Research on the Effectiveness of Eating to 80% Full
In a study of 330 participants, researchers found that men who ate to 80% full consumed an average of 1,997.3 calories per day. Men that did not eat to 80% full consumed an average of 2,448.9 calories per day. That’s a huge difference of 451 calories a day. If you were eating above your maintenance calorie needs, this could add up to about 1 lb of fat gained every 8 days! This is clearly something we want to pay attention to.
In addition to weight loss, the study also found that the men who ate to 80% full consumed fewer servings of grain dishes and more servings of vegetable dishes. So, it appears that those eating to 80% full are also more conscious of making healthy meal choices.
The Worlds Healthiest Cultures Eat to 80% Full
The Okinawans are known as one of the world’s healthiest and longest-lived people. One of their important cultural practices is eating to 80% full. But you don’t need to eat a traditional Okinawan diet to reap the benefits of the practice.
The French paradox shows us that people can eat cheese, pâté, and pastries but stay healthy. This is because the French don't eat to the point of fullness, similar to the Okinawans.
The practice of eating to 80% full is not new. Many other cultures around the world eat this way. For example, the Ayurvedic tradition in India advises eating until 75% full. The Chinese have an age-old adage to eat until you are seven parts full (70% full).
It All Comes Down to Mindful Eating
I’ve written separate posts on how to stop overeating and eating slowly to lose weight. At the end of the day, these are all mindful eating practices, just like eating to 80% full. They teach us to get back in touch with our physical hunger cues. The ultimate goal is to eat the right amount of food to nourish and keep us satisfied, without leading to weight gain. Like any skill, mindful eating takes work. But the benefits are life-long health and maintenance of weight.
So, now you know how mindful eating—specifically eating to 80% full—can help you lose weight. Let’s take a look at how you can put it into practice.
Practice Eating Slowly First
Before you work on this habit, I recommend learning to eat slowly first. This is because the two foundational habits for weight loss are 1) learning to eat slowly and 2) eating to 80% full. Do them in this order for best results.
How to Eat to 80% Full
First up, this isn’t an exact science. I don’t want you sitting there debating with yourself whether you’re at 78% or 84%. That’s not the point. You’re trying to practice mindful eating and notice when the hunger signal disappears but you’re not 100% full.
To begin with, keep it simple and use the hunger scale below. In general, you want to eat when you’re at a 3 or 4 and stop when at a 6. Don’t go too long between meals. When you’re starving, you’re more likely to overeat. Aim to stay in the green zone.
Other Strategies to Make You Feel Full
Eating to 80% full is a good tool, but it’s not a cure-all approach to weight loss. It also helps to focus on certain foods that make you feel full for longer. Initially, just practice one habit at a time. Once you’re comfortable with eating slowly and eating to 80% full, you can try adding other habits:
- Eat whole foods. Stick to unprocessed lean meats, plant protein sources, vegetables, healthy fats, clean carbs, and fruit in moderation.
- Up your vegetable intake. Check out this post for painless ways to do it.
- Eat lean protein at every meal (or at least your main meals). Protein is a superstar when it comes to weight loss. It makes you feel fuller than carbs or fats. How much? Men try to get 6-8 palm-sized servings of protein each day. Women try to get 4-6 palm-sized servings of protein each day.
- Up fibre intake. Fibre also makes us feel fuller for longer. Eat high-fibre foods like vegetables, fruit, beans, legumes, flax seeds, etc. Combining high-fibre foods and protein will supercharge your results.
- Cut back on hyperpalatable foods. They have little to no nutritional value and don’t fill us up. Don’t try to completely cut them out. Just limit them. You can try a rule: eat a large healthy meal of protein, clean carbs, and healthy fats before any treats. Or apply the 80/20 principle.
Don’t just consume information. If you’ve read this far, I’m assuming you find this post useful. You’ve now got two choices: 1) close the screen and think ‘that’s nice’ and move on with your day. Or 2) use the hunger scale to put this into practice. Start with one meal at a time. Make it so small you can’t fail. And as Nike says, just do it! Decision creates action. Action creates results.
I Need Your Help
I’ve also got a huge favour to ask of you. No, I don’t want your money. But will happily accept it! I’m trying to get this blog off the ground and I can’t do it without your help. Simply sharing this post on social media (you’re so close to the share buttons—look down below) or emailing it to a friend makes a HUGE difference in my life. In return, I promise we can be best mates and you can reach out anytime. Seriously. If you need help with any health, fitness, or Jedi Knight goals you can contact me here.
You can also share some love by adding a comment below. Let me know if you’ve had success with eating to 80% full in the past.
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