Stopping When You’re Satisfied

by Andie Mitchell on August 18, 2010

Someone asked me recently how I learned to eat until I was ‘just satisfied.’ Hmm. For the longest time I thought that any sort of eating should end with my pants unbuttoned, a few heaving sighs, and a three hour nap. Me telling my mom I needed to lie down in the back seat on the way home from the restaurant. “Jesus. Please drive fast.”

First, I must say this: there is a natural desire in all of us to experience pleasure, in all senses. When your dining companion is a Boston cream cupcake, it would be rude to not engage it. To lick the cream, take a bite of the tender-crumbed cake, and then swipe your finger through the dark chocolate ganache. Then shove the whole thing in your mouth. And look for another.

Delicious food is as emotionally decadent as it tastes. A pizza pie hits every pleasure receptor on the first slice and the third slice. The key is to notice that after you’ve eaten to capacity, to gentle satisfaction, you’re just chasing a taste. Trying to relive that excitement and pleasure from the first few bites.

People who habitually overeat, as I did for the first two decades of my life, are chasing a feeling. A flavor that doesn’t get any better, or any stronger, when it’s supersized. Trust me. I spent twenty years eating for every reason under the sun, the least important being hunger. I came to love that feeling of full. Those first few moments when you can really sense that your belly has reached it’s limits. You begin to picture your stomach, stuffed and puffed, like a whoopie cushion. I loved that.

Here’s the honest truth: I don’t think I really got in touch with my hunger and fullness cues until I had lost all 135 lbs. Sure, I started to realize that eating shouldn’t require elastic waist pants every time, and that I should stop after 2 slices of pizza, but it was just that: a “should.” My ideas about my body’s intuition were narrow and limited. I knew that losing weight probably meant that I wouldn’t be able to eat anything and everything in sight and that if I wanted to learn the art of normal eating, I’d have to get a hold of portions and practice moderation. It worked.

I retrained my brain. Reconfigured my plate, because truthfully I didn’t know that a small pizza wasn’t always “individual,” and that a Lunchable wasn’t a square meal. They really get you with that packaging, don’t they? Lucky Charms would have had me believe it was part of my complete and balanced breakfast. I learned later that this notion could be true if I removed the Lucky Charms part.

When you’re losing as much weight as I was, and good Lord that was a lot, all of your eating sensations are new. You come to think that the gentle tingling of hunger is par for the course. So when I lost all 135lbs, I visited a nutritionist to ask her one simple question: “How the Hell do I stay here?”

She told me to begin to listen to my body. Wait, the same body that likes to microwave a bag of Extreme Butter popcorn alongside a half stick of butter and then combine the two? Hmm.

I realized she was right. A few paid sessions later, I was on my own. Sure that if I was going to live a full and happy and un-obsessed life, I’d have to find balance. A number on the scale that allowed for a cupcake with my mom, an office cookie on Tuesday afternoon, and a handful of Cape Cod chips with my sandwich. Because, really, what’s a sandwich otherwise? I penned my own convictions. My eating manifesto.

The key to eating to satisfaction of mind, body, and spirit…is staying present. Absolutely and unfailingly aware of the moment you are in, and not the one five minutes ago or ten minutes ahead. Just being and accepting that all you have is the here and now. That food will always be there, whether you eat one slice of pizza, half a cupcake, or two candy bars, the food is not leaving the universe. Contrary to how it might lead you to think otherwise, one slice of pecan pie really is as satisfying as two. Let me walk you through an eating experience to illustrate my point:

It’s Monday night at 7:30. I’m with Daniel at a little Italian nook up the block from my home. I take in my surroundings. The sun is just low enough to cast that sideways orange spotlight on the sidewalk, to create shadows under the umbrella on our table for two. Breeze. When my food arrives, I marvel at it. A round of dough, spread with crushed tomato sauce, melted blobs of fresh buffalo mozzarella, sprigs of fresh basil. It is an Italian flag in color. My excitement is equal to, if not greater than, the night of my first prom. I lift a slice onto my small plate. I bring the plate to my nose just to really breathe that freshness. As if inhaling the fumes of hot garlic and olive oil will make my insides glow. It works. I take a bite. I leave the food on my tongue just a few seconds without chewing to fully embrace that first kiss of taste. I’m happy. I bite and chew, bite and chew, embracing every note of flavor, every subtle nuance of texture. I pause after a bite. I talk to Daniel about the food like it’s the only thing we have left in this world. We laugh, we grunt and “mmm” and “aaahhh” because good food feelings should be shared aloud. Eating is joyous. Don’t hold back. I remain in that precise moment and sense my body. How do I feel physically? What does my stomach have to say other than “Hot Damn!”? I begin another slice. I put the pizza down between some of the bites to sip my seltzer with lime. I finish that slice. I pause to tell Daniel a story about a dog I met that day, the one who sat on my foot for a rest. We laugh. At that moment, I realize that I’ve had all I want and need from this meal. I smile thinking about how much I enjoyed the taste. It will be here for me when I want it again, and so I push my plate away. There’s no “last supper” to furiously inhale. Pizza is always a block away.

Be in that moment. Go out to eat and eat with every sense. Realize that the food isn’t going anywhere and that your body, whether or not you are tuned into that station, is radio’ing to you all the time. You know when you’ve had enough to satisfy you. Trust that. Trust that you’re not a wild beast, who cannot be left to roam freely in food territory. You are the only you in the world, and you can eat what you please, enjoy it, and not fear it. Contrary to what may feel like fact, you will not eat with abandon until you are 400 pounds, so long as you stay present and mindful of what your body wants, needs, and tells you about satisfaction. Life is worth believing that.

Pound Cake With Cream Cheese

{ 70 comments… read them below or add one }

Samantha Angela @ Bikini Birthday August 18, 2010 at 8:50 am

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I really respect your relationship with food.

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Anna August 18, 2010 at 8:55 am

I love this post…this is something that I find SO difficult sometimes–shaking that “last supper” mentality. You write about it so eloquently!

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Can You Stay for Dinner August 18, 2010 at 9:05 am

Thanks, Anna! It’s the hardest thing to get a hold of- it took me years!

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Kelly August 18, 2010 at 8:57 am

Now I want pizza, and pound cake, and the mini oreo cheesecakes sitting in my fridge. Hmm perhaps it is time for a snack?

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Amy @ Second City Randomness August 18, 2010 at 9:25 am

It seems like it would be such a simple thing to do- but moderation is such a difficult task! It’s fantastic that you’ve mastered it so well!

My friend Annie was the one who first said something to me that was similar to a point you made. We were just casually talking about the subject and she said “I have to remind myself that it’s not like every time I eat cake that it’s not going to be the last time I get it.”

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Can You Stay for Dinner August 18, 2010 at 9:28 am

I know, I really used to believe that every meal was the last time I’d be able to eat that food, so it would always lead to two cupcakes, half of a large pizza, etc. Letting yourself know that you can and will have it again when you want it is huge!

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runrantrealize August 18, 2010 at 9:32 am

I agree with you 100%. For so long I ate to feel overfull, because that overfullness (not a real word, I know) made all my other problems go away. All I could think about in those moments was the oddly mentally comforting sense of physical discomfort.

When I started eating reasonable amounts and losing weight, the thing I struggled with most was losing food as a coping mechanism, and feeling like I was missing out on the rest of that pizza, cupcakes, plate of pasta, whatever it may have been.

With time I came to realize that the rest of that pizza would keep until tomorrow’s lunch, and that I felt much happier when I could really relish in the food and not feel like I had to be rolled out of the restaurant.

As always, thank you for your thoughts and honesty.

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Can You Stay for Dinner August 18, 2010 at 9:37 am

Thanks, Mai! Sounds like you’ve gotten in touch with your body in the most valuable way

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Michelle August 18, 2010 at 9:56 am

Great post. I really enjoyed reading that :-) I esp. loved the line, “Pizza is always a block away.” So important to remember when learning how to eat in a balanced way.

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Shanna, like Banana August 18, 2010 at 9:57 am

This is unbelievably difficult for me. I fear that it may be the last time I will eat such a great meal (case in point: deep dish pizza) and feel the need to put as much in body as possible. As if, I’ll have reserves to call up when I’m in dire need. Nope, doesn’t work that way.

I liked your term of “gentle satisfaction” and I need to tap into that. I think it’s pretty burried though so bare with me ;)

Oh and my husband would do a throw-down fight with you regarding your comment on Lucky Charms :-P

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Can You Stay for Dinner August 18, 2010 at 10:02 am

Hahaha, your husband might win because I actually love Lucky Charms with a fiery passion. I should never speak badly about such goodness

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Samantha August 18, 2010 at 10:29 am

Amazing post!! This is just what I needed to hear when I needed to hear it. A lot of time when I am eating things that are indulgent or unhealthier than I would like, I feel like I need to eat as much as I can because maybe I won’t ever get to have it again. Thanks for this post!

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Tracey @ I'm Not Superhuman August 18, 2010 at 10:35 am

I get that Last Supper mentality sometimes, too. Usually around dessert. I love your line: Pizza is always a block away. It’s so funny how we often eat like there’s a famine right on our heels. Sometimes I wish I grew up in a time where food was nourishment, not something to stuff myself with, testing to see if I’ll pop.

I really admire how you view food. It’s such a strong, healthy relationship.

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Christine @ Grub, Sweat and Cheers August 18, 2010 at 11:11 am

Fantastic post. Most of the time I am right there with you but have been a bit out of touch with myself lately. Thanks for the great blog and reminder to listen and trust ourselves.

Now I must go print out that pound cake recipe.

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Danielle August 18, 2010 at 11:37 am

I find myself with a small amount of anxiety when I feel like there won’t be enough food. For example: When we have to wait for a table in a restaurant or I’m at someone’s house for dinner and people are dishing out their food before me, I have a mini breakdown that by the time I sit down or get to serve my food there won’t be enough!

It’s such a weird feeling and I hate it. I love the idea that the food will be there tomorrow. I need to remind myself of that!

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Can You Stay for Dinner August 18, 2010 at 2:47 pm

Isn’t it funny how we always feel like we’re on the brink of famine? I used to get that sensation too. Like, oh god please don’t let anyone take it all before I get to the buffet!!

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Abigail August 18, 2010 at 11:42 am

Loved this article and will probably post your link on my fb, if that’s ok. This story resonates with me so much! As I lose more and more weight, I learn more and more about my body, what “true hunger” feels like, and the fact that food exists solely to give me energy and keep my body running – like a machine. And, if and when I do get treats/things I don’t normally eat, to really be present and enjoy them.

Thanks again.

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lisaou11 August 18, 2010 at 11:43 am

Beautiful post and I plan on saving it for future reference!

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Megan (Braise The Roof) August 18, 2010 at 12:04 pm

This is a great and much needed post. Especially with all the traveling and activities that have taken me out of my normal routine in the last few weeks, this feels especially pertinent. Stopping when your stomach is satisfied is so logical yet sometimes so difficult to do! Thanks for the beautiful reminder. :)

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Can You Stay for Dinner August 18, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Hey friend!! So good to hear from you again! I know, when you’re away from home, it feels harder to really be in tune, doesn’t it? Thanks for the sweetness!

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Fervent Foodie August 18, 2010 at 12:25 pm

What a FANTASTIC post. I got goosebumps as I was reading it, can I can totally relate to the intense satisfaction and joy a good meal can bring. I’m a “fervent” lover of food, no joke there, and that often leads to over-enjoying the meal (aka over EATING). Thank you so much for such a well-written post. Next time I sit down to a delicious meal, I’m going to try and slow-things down and enjoy it with all my senses. Maybe that will help me stop when my body says it’s ready to. :)

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Can You Stay for Dinner August 18, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Thank you so much! You’re absolutely right, though, sometimes enjoying a meal means eating fast and not giving yourself the time to recognize that you’re getting full. I do this too at times. It’s taken me a long time to really sloooowwwww down. But thanks again, your words meant a lot!

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Jessie August 18, 2010 at 12:26 pm

I hope to one day reach this level of comfort with food! I am often an overeater! Thanks for the words of wisdom!

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Can You Stay for Dinner August 18, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Thanks! You can do it, I promise. Just believe that you can.

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Aimee August 18, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Great post!! :) I love how you gave the example.. it really gave me a new outlook on eating! This is such a hard thing to learn.. and I’m still not completely there but I have realized that everyday it gets a tiny bit easier and you start to feel so much more in touch with yourself!
I also plan on saving this for future reference!

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Can You Stay for Dinner August 18, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Thanks Aimee! It really did take me a long time to get to this point of comfort. You can do it. I know you can. I appreciate you reading!

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Tina August 18, 2010 at 12:45 pm

It took me a long time to understand my satisfaction cues too. And like you said, a lot of it boils down to being present and just focusing on the sensations. I like the rule of the diminishing factor – when the taste and the enjoyment aren’t quite as high as before, it’s time to slow it down.

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Can You Stay for Dinner August 18, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Ooo, Tina! The diminishing factor is a big one! Great point!!

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Ashley August 18, 2010 at 1:27 pm

Hi! I love love love your blog. I wanna make everything you post! I was wondering if you could tell us some of your FAVORITE foods that helped you loose/maintain the weight. Breakfast/lunch/dinner. Sometimes its hard to find those beloved foods through the process. What are your go-to foods that you enjoy/love? Thank you so much!

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Can You Stay for Dinner August 18, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Hey Ashley! What a great idea- I’ll definitely post about my favorite foods! Thanks for the suggestion and thanks for your sweet words!

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dianacheung August 18, 2010 at 7:39 pm

great idea! I love your decadent treats but would like to see the other side too. ;)

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overweighted August 18, 2010 at 1:33 pm

tThank you so much for this post. It is so timely for me. This is something that I am working on to be “in the moment”. To know when I have had enough. To be able to push back from the table and feel ok with that. You have conveyed this so well. It is what has been in my mind but I could not find the words for. I really appreciate you.

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Can You Stay for Dinner August 18, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Thank *you* for your nice comment. Having someone respond to something I write means a lot, and knowing that it made a difference in some small way means even more. I really appreciate you as a reader. Thanks

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Kat (My Fruity Life) August 18, 2010 at 2:36 pm

I love your blog! I love this post! Last night I stayed up in bed with my laptop and couldn’t stop reading all your past posts. You are such an inspiration. I saw you at HLS but didn’t get a chance to meet you. Maybe next year ;)

I am bookmarking this post. I hope someday to conquer my over eating like you have. Practice makes perfect…right? We all need to learn how to just slow down and enjoy each and every bite. I’m starting with my next meal. :) xoxo Kat

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Can You Stay for Dinner August 18, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Kat, what a kind soul you are! Thank you for reading and for commenting. Trust me when I say this: You can get there with eating. To that place where it’s not seemingly out of control and it’s peaceful. Knowing that you want that ease in your life is all you need to start. I just wish we had met at HLS! Your words really made my day, thank you thank you thank you! Andrea

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Courtney August 18, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Fantastic post, Andrea! I can totally relate to the not being able to stop at just 2 slices of pizza. Sometimes it’s definitely a struggle.
Mannnn girl, I really wish I got to see more of you at HLS! It was soooo great being able to talk with you. We’ll have to make sure it happens again.
P.S. – I want that pound cake, in my lap, right now. :)

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Can You Stay for Dinner August 18, 2010 at 3:40 pm

AAaah Court! It was a pleasure spending time together at HLS!! But I agree- we need a lot more of it! Let’s plan a get together on the east coast for the near future!

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Hangry Pants August 18, 2010 at 6:13 pm

You make eating sound so … wonderful. I love it! And I really want to share a pizza with you.

I am so glad I found your blog this weekend, but now I have so much to catch up on.

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Can You Stay for Dinner August 18, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Haha, Heather you can probably skip about 98% of the posts in your effort to catch up- they’re largely me being either debaucherous or downright bananas. But I really would love to dine together. I’m from Massachusetts, lived in Connecticut and Philly all last year. I’m coming home to the east coast in the winter and would love to meet sometime!

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dianacheung August 18, 2010 at 7:38 pm

great post. I struggle with this daily. I love your strength and honesty (as usual). I think that there is always a point, while eating dessert, where a bite doesn’t taste as good as the last bite….that’s when we should stop…nothing beats the first bite so why keep going till you feel gross and feel guilty?

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M.J. Jacobsen August 18, 2010 at 8:51 pm

No one else has ever put things in perspective like you………you really have a gift girl! This post will be on my fridge!

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Can You Stay for Dinner August 19, 2010 at 8:43 am

Thanks so much, M.J.! You really know how to make a girl feel good!

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Lauren @ Fun Fit, and Fabulous! August 18, 2010 at 9:15 pm

Amazing Post! I have been trying very hard lately to pay attention to my body while eating. I am terrible about trying to multi-task while eating, and then my plate is empty and I don’t even remember eating! Not good. I really appreciate your honesty about your relationship with food. It is truly inspiring!

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Can You Stay for Dinner August 19, 2010 at 8:46 am

Thank you, Lauren! Multi-tasking is such a hard habit to break- it’s just so easy to do other things while eating- driving, checking your email, watching tv. My advice is always just to make a really clean break from all other forms of entertainment while eating, except for conversation, because the social part of eating is one of life’s truest pleasures. Sharing food joy

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Janene August 19, 2010 at 12:07 am

This post is EXACTLY what I needed to read right now! Thank you so much for having such an awesome blog, and for being such an inspiration!

Janene

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Gabriela @ Une Vie Saine August 19, 2010 at 7:05 am

Amazing post! I’m still trying to train myself in this kind of eating. I have a habit to either overeat or undereat and completely ignore what my body is telling me, but I do need to remind myself that the food will always be there. You have such an incredible writing voice!

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Anne Marie@New Weigh of Life August 19, 2010 at 7:42 am

This was such a wonderful post :)

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Carolyn @ lovinlosing.com August 19, 2010 at 8:49 am

Wonderful post, written beautifully!!

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Kim @ Imperfectly Perfect August 19, 2010 at 9:21 am

Great post, Andrea! I still struggle with this. I’m lost in the diet mentality a lot….but, I’m working on it.

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Shelley (findinghappinessandhealth) August 19, 2010 at 9:28 am

this post is amazing!!! i am honestly amazed with you and how well you articulate your posts. I read every word. As someone who has never struggled with being overweight, I STILL can relate to the feelings of wanting to overeat. I have binged & it feels awful- you are right, there is always more food! I have been working on truly savoring every bite. It is hard sometimes but it makes me feel so much better when I realize I ate exactly what I needed/wanted… no more & no less. you are a great role model
xoxoxoox

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Can You Stay for Dinner August 19, 2010 at 9:31 am

Thanks so much, Shell! Your comment really brightened my whole morning!

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Leah @ Why Deprive? August 19, 2010 at 10:55 am

This is such a great post. I used to have SUCH a problem with eating in moderation. Somehow the concept of not inhaling every bite just because its there, or because I can, was way beyond my grasp. It took a long time for me to figure it out, but Im so glad I have. Food should be enjoyed, and when you’re eating just for the sake of eating, you’re rarely enjoying it the way you should.

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Suzanne August 19, 2010 at 11:10 am

I wanted to tell you thank you. I really needed this today.

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Can You Stay for Dinner August 19, 2010 at 11:12 am

So happy that the post meant something to you, Suzanne. Thank you for reading.

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Annelies August 19, 2010 at 4:15 pm

I couldn’t agree more. I find if (and when) I have overdone it in the past, my tastebuds actually stop tasting the flavor that delighted me in the first place. It’s like they’ve hit saturation and yet I keep going. I have been thinking a lot about this lately and am thinking through what mindful eating looks like for me personally.

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Can You Stay for Dinner August 19, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Thank you for the thoughtful comment, Annalies! The ‘saturation point’ is the best way to describe that feeling!

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Cindy August 19, 2010 at 4:49 pm

Gosh I love ever single thing you said here. Really, I think we disconnect so much these days. I just caught my self this morning, eating a delish veggie filled quesadilla and not even tasting it.

a quick slap to the face and I finished it and totally enjoying it. I am still full. I think you touched on some VERY important points.

thanks for the reminder!
xxooxoxox

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Amber from Girl with the Red Hair August 19, 2010 at 6:15 pm

I sat here nodding my head through this whole entire post. I am slowly learning this, and it’s definitely been a work-in process. I used to binge eat pretty regularly – once or twice a week at least, I have ate so much before that when I went to bed at night I couldn’t fall asleep my stomach was so full it hurt.

That is not healthy.

Now, I’m working on pushing my plate away from me and assessing whether I really need/want more food or not before eating more.

You nailed it bang on with this line: “People who habitually overeat, as I did for the first two decades of my life, are chasing a feeling. A flavor that doesn’t get any better, or any stronger, when it’s supersized. ”

Love, love, love this post!

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Can You Stay for Dinner August 19, 2010 at 6:27 pm

Wow, Amber! Thank you so very much for such a thoughtful comment, and for sharing a bit of your journey. It’s amazing the changes we can make if we just want change badly enough. Sounds like you’re really in tune these days. All the best, Andrea

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Sana August 19, 2010 at 11:23 pm

I just read every single word of that post and nodded. Because when I eat something, I am that clingy girl who never lets go of her crush.

Once I have that first bit I am going back for 2nds and thirds. Andddd we all know how well that works out!

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Sarah (Running to Slow Things Down) August 20, 2010 at 8:06 am

I love all of your posts. I really do. But this has got to be my absolute favorite. Intuitive Eating is one of the most important things that I think anyone and everyone can work towards having. And that’s where “peace with food” really happens. It’s okay to have pizza. It’s okay to have a cupcake. And most of all, it’s more than okay to enjoy it.

Thanks for such a well-written, wonderful post! :D

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Can You Stay for Dinner August 20, 2010 at 8:45 am

Thanks so much, Sarah! That means a lot!

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Jennifer August 20, 2010 at 3:40 pm

Oh Andrea, your insight makes me smile. I promise some of your posts are like something out of a self-help book with beautiful soft music playing in the background. lol

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Can You Stay for Dinner August 20, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Hahaha, so true- I should be doing readings at Barnes and Noble in the Self Help section!! Thanks, Jen!

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Sarah from 20somethingcupcakes August 21, 2010 at 8:59 am

This is such a great post – and I’m sure inspiring to many. I’ve never been severely overweight, just someone who tends to struggle with those last 5 or 10 pounds from time to time. I can really relate to this. I’ve lately really been thinking like this, and it’s helped so much. Cheers to you!

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Can You Stay for Dinner August 21, 2010 at 9:27 am

Thank you, Sarah!!

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Healthy Coconut August 21, 2010 at 2:13 pm

Thank you for this post. I really like it, it was written well. I’m reading the book “Intuitive Eating” right now, just starting the first chapter. I can’t wait to learn more about Intuitive Eating.

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Katie Photiadis July 5, 2011 at 6:31 am

WOW. All I can say is WOW. You summed this up so perfectly. In the past when I would binge, I was always thinking about the next taste, instead of focusing on the present. As I was eating my pizza, I was already planning for the ice cream in the (near) future. I think so much of what you say is true. Eat wisely and mindfully. Live in the moment. The food isn’t going anywhere–you don’t have to cling to it like it’s about to disappear.

Thank you for this post!

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admin July 5, 2011 at 7:45 am

Thanks Katie :)

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Audrey Smith December 3, 2011 at 2:03 pm

I’m new to your blog, but every word seems to resonate with me, especially this post. I’ve been overweight every one of my 26 years but I am committed to change it. I’ve realized I approach meals as if they are my last, thinking I need two types of meat at a restaurant or afraid the cake or cookies will run out without my getting another piece. It’s so refreshing to see I am not the only one who has struggled with this and you have fought through it. Thank you for sharing!

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