How to Kill Cravings, Reduce Your Appetite and Lose Weight Without a Magic Wand

by | Aug 18, 2014

Photo by charliebarker

Last week I received a comment on an older blog post that really took me off guard. The post was about 9 Simple Tricks to Eat More Mindfully and Kelsey, a recent foodist convert, had one of the strangest problems I’ve ever heard after implementing some of the tips.

 

For the past few weeks I’ve been following these of Darya’s mindful eating guidelines:

4. Put your fork down between each bite
6. Try to identify every ingredient in your meal
7. Put your food on a plate
8. Sit at a table

I haven’t missed a single meal with these and as a result my eating has become much slower, much more mindful, and much, much more controlled.

The “problem” is (and I don’t know if it’s even fair to call it a problem, but it’s making me sad) that I haven’t felt HUNGER in days.

 

What struck me most and continued to haunt me for the rest of the day was her use of the word “sad.” Foodists aren’t sad. Being a foodist should make life awesome by helping you get healthy while eating foods you love and without suffering through pain and hunger.

Kelsey seemed to have accomplished these goals––she’s already lost eight pounds and clearly isn’t suffering from deprivation––but she was disappointed that she didn’t feel as excited about eating as she had when she was eating more.

 

All I know is that when I wake up in the morning, I’m happy to eat breakfast, but nowhere near hungry. At lunch time, I have to remind myself to eat. And dinner, I’ve gotten to the point where a glass of wine and a handful of berries or kale chips is all I have room for. THIS IS CRAZY FOR ME because I have always been one to LOVE dinnertime and zestfully dig into a giant bowl of pasta.

 

She admitted up front that most people wouldn’t consider this a problem, but for her it was making life slightly less awesome. And as the rallying force behind the foodist movement, I felt responsible.

My initial assumption was that Kelsey’s body and brain were still adjusting to her new habits and the issue would resolve itself over time, but this hypothesis didn’t quite sound right to me. I’ve never experienced anything like what she was describing. What she said she was eating for breakfast and lunch seemed very similar to how I eat, but I’m always hungry and excited for dinner. I realized there could only be one other explanation: she was still eating too much.

I went back and looked again at the description of her food. Sure enough, her portions for breakfast and lunch were more than double what I eat, and I easily eat 2,000 calories per day. No wonder she wasn’t hungry for dinner.

I gently suggested she double check her serving sizes, then followed up a few days later and asked how things were going. She tells it best:

 

So, cutting down my portions DID definitely restore my appetite at dinnertime. And it was surprisingly easy (and felt kind of bizarre!).

I was surprised to find that your recommendation of a half cup of muesli with just a splash of nut milk keeps me completely tided over until lunchtime––that’s my new morning routine.

My lunches have gotten quite a bit lighter, too––previously I was sort of following a model of “half a plate of vegetables, a quarter plate of ‘protein,’ a quarter plate of intact grains,” but since stepping back and taking another look at my appetite throughout the day, I find I am much more comfortable after eating a lunch of MOSTLY vegetables (usually chopped into a salad, with oil, vinegar, herbs, and some nuts and seeds or chicken thrown in). If I follow this plan loosely (which is easy, since it feels so good), I have an appetite for dinner! (But am nowhere near ‘starving’).

And I’m not knocking back a giant bowl of pad thai or spaghetti for dinner, which I used to do most nights (kind of embarrassed to admit this). Instead, I’m eating simple whole-food meals.

 

There are a few reasons this is fascinating. First, Kelsey had already cut back significantly on her portions when she started her new mindful eating habits. By eating slower and chewing more, her body was able to realize that it needed even less than she thought and she reduced her food intake naturally. This is pretty amazing when you think about it. Even someone who loves food and eating (i.e. a foodist) wasn’t able to eat more than she needed in a day when practicing mindful eating habits. Take that willpower. Who needs you, anyway?

Kelsey’s story also illustrates the power habits have over our normal portion sizes. American food portions are beyond huge, but we don’t see it this way. We see it as normal. It isn’t because we are gluttons, it’s because we (like all humans) are creatures of habit. The important thing to realize is that reducing portions, even when you don’t feel hungry, is not a normal reaction and requires conscious effort until new habits develop. This is easy to do, especially when you eat mindfully and reduce your appetite, but it won’t happen on its own. Buying smaller plates or measuring out food portions for awhile to see what they are supposed to look like can help with this.

A few other benefits emerged from Kelsey’s new mindfulness as well. She was surprised to find that her life-time cravings for pasta and grains virtually disappeared.

 

Another surprising thing was finding that I don’t have the cravings for grains and starches that I used to have. I like my breakfast muesli, but I don’t really need many grains through the rest of the day. I like a small amount of (intact) grains in my day to day, but not much, and “cravings” are pretty much nonexistent for me at this point.

 

Even more impressive was that the digestive issues she had struggled with her entire life have cleared up.

 

I’m DELIGHTED to find what a beneficial impact it’s had on my digestive system. I have struggled with my gut for years and have been lactose- and gluten-free for a long time, but mindful eating/reduced portions/chewing/all of the above have been the clincher. I feel great. No more clutching my stomach on the couch in the fetal position!!

 

She’s also found it easier and more rewarding to eat without the distractions of TV, radio and internet.

 

While I was making sure to put my fork down between bites, chew thoroughly, use a plate, and sit at a table, I didn’t initially make an effort to turn off the tv/radio/music/podcast/whatever as I ate. I thought it would be too hard to eat without any distractions, for some reason. But lately, if I try to eat in front of the TV or something, I find myself thinking “Jeez, this show is kinda getting in the way of my dinner!” I’d rather consider each bite and enjoy my meal slowly. So for the first time ever I am beginning to TURN OFF THE NOISE when I eat.

 

Last, Kelsey mentioned something to me that I found particularly poignant. As a young woman who had spent a large part of her life struggling with food and body image issues, but had over the past several years let go of the obsessions and started feeling comfortable in her skin, she was a bit nervous about paying more attention to food again.

 

I’ve done the strict calorie counting, I’ve done weird cleanses, I’ve starved myself, I’ve binged, I’ve been incredibly obsessed with my weight and my body. Since moving in with my boyfriend two years ago, I’ve felt more and more comfortable with myself. He’s been the uber-supportive force who accepted me at all different body sizes and helped me realize I could love myself. So I had really gotten to a place where I felt good in my skin. But I was also gaining weight––25 pounds over the two years that we’ve been living together. The extra weight wasn’t causing the guilt and anxiety I remembered from college and high school. But it was signaling to me that I needed to examine my practices.

I was interested in the idea of mindful eating, but I was also afraid of it. I wasn’t sure how much of my self confidence hinged on the patterns I’d adopted. It sounds strange, but the mere idea of paying attention to food again actually made me a little panicky. I’d already gone from this diet-obsessed, restrictive eater to a happy person who didn’t starve herself. What if I fell back into my old habits of restricting? I was in a safety bubble of overeating.

 

Knowing how much better life is without food obsessing, I can relate to Kelsey’s dilemma. I know firsthand how much better it feels to be free from the tyranny of dieting than it does to simply be thin. I think her fear was healthy, but I’m thrilled she realized the tremendous difference between being mindful about eating and being obsessive about it. One creates peace, while the other builds anxiety. They seem similar, but they couldn’t be more different.

When we are unhealthy, overweight, or just unhappy with our bodies, we tend to focus all of our energy on pushing food away. But this tactic only serves to heighten tension and anxiety. By embracing food instead, we relieve the tension and are able to restore our relationship with our food and our bodies. We can then live in peace, without either depriving ourselves or overeating. Finally.

UPDATE: This story was originally published July 31, 2013, but it was so remarkable that I recently checked in with Kelsey again to see how her mindful eating habits were holding up. She has since moved on to add several additional foodist habits and is continuing to work on her healthstyle, but mindful eating seems to be in the bag:

 

I would say after a year it’s often difficult NOT to eat mindfully. It’s become more and more my default. And I LOVE that!! Thank. You. Darya.

 

She acknowledges that mindful eating can still be difficult in social situations, but has a healthy understanding that those are more rare in her life and don’t have a substantial impact on her overall health, so she doesn’t worry about it. She eats mindfully most of the time, and that’s all that matters in the long-run.

Congratulations Kelsey on becoming a foodist, and thanks again for allowing me to share your story.

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17 Responses to “How to Kill Cravings, Reduce Your Appetite and Lose Weight Without a Magic Wand”

  1. joe says:

    Great article as usual! But I wonder if the american ability to devour huge amounts of food isn’t also helped by the addictive nature of the “trifecta of sugar,fats, and salt” and, for some people, carbohydrates.

  2. Loraine says:

    Great article that i can definitely relate to. I’ve gained a lot of weight after moving in with my significant other. Mainly because I became sedentary and stopped almost all together any type of physical activity that I was doing at the time.
    Also, eating in front of the television, not chewing enough and overall “being lazy after a long day of work”.
    We’ll get back to eating at the table and controlling portions.
    Thank you for the post. This was inspiring and it opened my eyes.

  3. Kyith says:

    I chanced upon your website from Tim Ferris and i must say i like your niche.

    I wouldn’t say i am a mindful eater. I suffer from Psoriasis which is pretty severe. Tried alot of things then it doesn’t help (including what you provided)

    But i really appreciate alot of things. Humans have forgotten to appreciate their food. Although i still eat in front of work and digest information (trying to kick this habit) what i did was:

    1) only minimal millet to suck the gravy (i hate food without carbo as there are alot of gravy)
    2) mindful eating (25-30 munches)
    3) eyes close eating
    4) start off eating ALWAYS by counting the number of munches to kick off the momentum
    5) eat with colleagues who understand why you don’t talk so much during meals
    6) mindful eating means you don’t really need so much food to last the full meal to enjoy your company with friends.
    7) I don’t really feel hungry (not sure if its a good thing as the person in this article)

  4. Tina says:

    I enjoyed your article and the insights of Kelsey. Food obsession goes hand in hand with self esteem issues in our house. I have a 18 year old daughter who has struggled with weight issues since high school…which coincided with peer issues. Now in college, she finds it difficult to maintain the ‘habits’ she cultivates at home while on summer break. At school she has a difficult load of classes, a sorority that demands time, and as a result finds it hard to get enough sleep; a big trigger for her. The cafeteria is one big plate of carbs/sugar she must navigate and be creative each time she approaches it. Time for exercise/sleep/studies/socializing seem impossible for her to pull together. She wants desperately to drop the twenty pounds she packed on during her first year and at home is working towards this goal with exercise / whole food eating/getting enough sleep. However she sees this slipping away as the beginning of school draws near. Any advice to our sleep-deprived, budget-minded young people who suddenly find themselves uprooted to completely different environments each fall?

    • Darya Rose says:

      The only way for a sleep-deprived, busy person to succeed is to set up a series of healthy habits that run on autopilot and don’t require willpower. It’s not super easy, but not terribly hard either. My book Foodist explains exactly how to tackle it. One of the keys is giving up the notion of dieting so you’re not wasting willpower on things that won’t work. Use the willpower to establish the habits. Once they are in place you can put your effort elsewhere (probably building even more good habits). I developed all these ideas while getting my PhD and building/running/creating content for an award winning website. She can do it too :)

  5. Margaux says:

    My only negative side effect so far from mindful eating is a slightly sore jaw! =)

  6. Dee says:

    Mindful eating is truth!

  7. Anne says:

    I find myself visiting your site more and more when I feel like my daily routine is being thrown off by less sleep, auto-pilot eating, etc. I started school a couple of months ago and I’ve been catching myself multi-tasking quite a bit while I study. This was a great reminder to keep myself on track!

    Also a nicer way to tell me I don’t need to go into panic mode and search for crazy ways to work out/diet “in just 7 days!”.

  8. Eloise says:

    Thank you for this article, it was super! I’m currently in my early twenties and starting college late due to many issues influencing my life. Of course, being a woman I’ve had an issue with emotionally eating to counteract these issues and I’m taking this whole summer (5 months) to sort myself out on a proper eating and workout regime.

    It’s distressing, you know, being overweight for my natural body type and it really does rule my life to the extent that I’m usually ashamed to leave the house. I’d just like to thank you for this awesome article and this beautiful blog, it’s really helping me find my feet and aiding me to becoming who I’m meant to be in a happy and healthy way!

    I only have a couple of questions if you’re able to very kindly answer them? First, being a student I don’t have much money to buy the healthiest foods other than the dreaded starchy goods that are obscenely cheaper than the healthier options; do you have any advice on what to look for? Second is whether or not there is an optimal time to start/stop eating dinner since that’s a problem meal for me because I can’t seem to stop eating!? And third (and last question, I promise!) is just asking for any other advice you could give me that would be helpful to a busy student!? :)

    All the best wishes.

    • Darya Rose says:

      Most green and root vegetables are very, very cheap. As is bulk beans, lentils, grains, eggs, etc. I was a student and totally broke when I started this journey and launched this blog, so anyone can do it. If you’re overeating at night something else is going on. Either you’re not eating enough during the day, not getting enough protein, emotional/stress eating, etc. Lots of resources here on the blog to help. (search for late night snacking, emotional eating, mindful eating, etc.)

  9. Noelle says:

    Thank you for sharing this story Darya! I am working toward mindfulness and have been thinking about it more and more lately, so this comes at the perfect time! I think it’s about time to re-read Foodist! Thanks again!

  10. amy says:

    The main thing that draws me to the foodist healthstyle is the emotional drama I connect with food and body image, much like Kelsey. I’m so excited to build habits that make me feel awesome about what I eat rather than guilty, sad, and frustrated.

    Thanks for helping us all figure this out, Darya!

    • AJ says:

      I completely agree with you, Amy. This blog has helped me feel relaxed and at ease about food, nutrition, and weight loss/maintenance. This blog encourages me to develop a positive attitude toward health conscious habit formation, to be open to change, flexibility, and fluctuation (yes, even some weight fluctuation), and to have faith in yourself that new habits can surely be formed. Thanks again, Darya!

  11. Erin says:

    Mindful eating is such a seemingly simple idea but a lot of work if you have spent your life in a perpetual stream of diets. This post really struck a chord for me. I know, logically, that if I eat mindfully my body will find it’s proper weight but this is really uncharted territory for me. The last time I didn’t fret about every bite I put in my mouth I was 100 lbs overweight. How much ‘willpower’ I have on any given day dictates how I feel about myself. Thanks for helping to make sense of this.

  12. Sarah says:

    Nice article! Also eating foods with low energy density and lots of fiber will make you feel full with lower calories. Fruit and vegetables with high water content can also help you feel more satisfied.

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