Try and cajole an infant into eating more than they want and you’ll be in for some serious mess. Babies lose interest in feeding once they’ve had enough* and they don’t like being pestered to finish what you thought was the right amount.
Being persuaded to eat beyond feeling full
Fast forward from babyhood to adulthood and – what happened?!
For many of us, eating easily and naturally with the rhythm of our bodies is long-forgotten.
Clearing your plate, keeping others company whilst they eat the amount they want, being unable to stop once you’ve popped that pack of Pringles – there are numerous ways that we are nudged towards eating more than we need.
The Profit Motive
Feeding us more than we need is seriously profitable. Getting used to larger amounts means we buy more, and more, and more.
In a nutshell, we’re being lured into buying and eating more by our brains’ response to super-tempting foods. Some of us are more prone to this effect than others – that is a natural result of individual differences between us, both biological and psychological.
Eating what our body needs rather than what our brain fancies
A key to eating in tune with our body is learning to stop eating when we are just full. “Just full” is subjective of course. That doesn’t matter. We only need to learn to tune into our own gut, nobody else’s. And what “just full” feels like to you may be different to what it feels like to me. We’ll never know, and it doesn’t matter.
Research on tuning in and slowing down
Nurse Anna Ford and colleagues in their specialist childhood obesity clinic at Bristol Children’s Hospital used a machine which monitors amount and speed of food eaten. You put your plate on the “Mandometer” which is linked to your phone. As you eat you get feedback on the speed you’re eating and you are asked to rate your fullness level regularly.
Ford’s study set out to see whether the feedback provided by the Mandometer could help teenagers living with obesity to lose weight. They compared the clinic’s standard care with offering the same care plus the Mandometer, over a 12-month intervention. The teenagers in the Mandometer group took the portable weighing scale home with them after being shown how to use it.
They all saw a research nurse once a week for the first 6 weeks and then less often but maintained regular contact for the remainder of the year. They also had 4 dietetic consultations over the course of the 12 months.
The participants’ first Mandometer training session began with choosing their own food and portion size in the hospital canteen and then a series of adjustments were programmed into the Mandometer to provide ‘training lines’ on the app on their phone, that they were asked to try to follow to regulate the speed of their eating.
The teenagers could then eat whatever the evening meal was at home that day and were asked to just focus on keeping to the portion size and speed of eating suggested by the Mandomoter. The teenagers were then asked to continue doing this over the course of the year.
The machine helped them adjust the portion size and speed of eating by asking for fullness ratings during the meal, and encouraging increased awareness of their changing satiety levels. The aim was to help the teenagers feel full after eating 300 to 250 grams of food over 12 to 15 minutes.
After 12 months the teenagers in both groups had lost weight, increased insulin sensitivity, improved HDL cholesterol and improved self-esteem.
The Mandometer group had significantly greater weight loss and this advantage remained 6 months later. They also had greater reduction in body fat, a significant reduction in the portion size they chose at mealtimes and importantly they did NOT feel less satiated at the end of the smaller meals than they had at the start of the study. At the end of the study, the levels of key appetite hormones had changed so that the Mandometer group had lower levels of ghrelin (a ’hunger hormone’) and increased levels of PYY (a satiety hormone).
The authors concluded that the focus on reducing eating speed enabled the participants to experience greater satiety responsiveness – they felt just as full from a smaller portion. Retraining eating behaviour and reinforcing feelings of satiety did seem to improve weight loss in adolescents living with obesity.
You can’t buy a Mandometer
At least for now, Mandometers seem to be unavailable on the open market, so it’s not kit you could try yourself at home. So what is the alternative?
The question Psychologist Elanor Hinton asked was whether simply rating fullness regularly during a meal would lead to greater feelings of fullness and if so, would this lead to eating less dessert?
In her study, people who were hungry to start with ate a set-size pasta meal. Every 90 seconds during their pasta meal, people were asked make fullness ratings on a line with “not at all” at one end and “extremely” at the other.
The time taken for them to eat the pasta meal was measured, and at the end of the pasta meal they were given a bowl of choc-chip cookies and invited to eat those until comfortably full. The amount of pasta and cookies eaten were weighed.
The results of this study showed that just attending to internal fullness signals did not lead to greater feelings of fullness or to eating less dessert.
Maybe tuning in is a skill that takes time to develop
Given that you can’t buy a Mandometer yourself, perhaps you could find a middle way to enhance your awareness of when you’re at the point of feeling just full. Perhaps think of this ‘interoceptive awareness’ of your gut as a skill that you once had that you may have lost touch with over the years.
I developed The Appetite Pendulum® to help you re-learn this skill and use the awareness to guide your eating. Here it is, with labels for different levels of hunger and fullness.
The suggestion is to stop eating each meal at +3, and to arrive at your next meal at -3 (definitely hungry). There isn’t space here to explain this further but there is more information on my website and in my book “How to Retrain Your Appetite“.
One point I would make is that if it works for you, the Appetite Pendulum is a tool that you continue to use to guide your eating.
** It’s important to say that some infants have genetic changes which mean that they aren’t able to regulate their consumption in this way. It’s also important to mention that babies vary in the way they demand food, and the amount they need.
Ford A.L., Bergh C., Sodersten P., Sabin M.A., Hollinghurst S., Hunt L.P. and Shield J (2010) Treatment of childhood obesity by retraining eating behaviour: randomised controlled trial. BMJ 2010;340:b5388
Hinton, E., Leary S.D, Comlek L., Rogers P. and Hamilton-Shield J.P. (2020) How full am I? The effect of rating fullness during eating on food intake, eating speed and relationship with satiety responsiveness. Appetite, 157