Progression from Binge Eating Recovery to Weight Loss: Stopping At Satisfied

Jan 16, 2020

This is a transcript of the January 16, 2020 episode of the Breaking Up With Binge Eating podcast. If you prefer to listen instead of read, go for it here!


Have you ever seen memes of "cake decorating fails?" They crack me up. If you don't know what I'm talking about, I'll explain. Cake decorating has pretty much become fine art, there are professionals who rival Michelangelo with what they can sculpt out of frosting. I’m talking roses that look completely lifelike, cakes that look like unicorns, cakes with ice skating penguins on top… it’s incredible! 

Cake decorating fails are the hilarious photos of what happens when average non-Michelangelo’s try to decorate cake like one of the masters. A cake that’s supposed to look like a smiling Disney princess comes out looking like a grimacing monster. A cake that’s supposed to be a cute little Easter lamb looks like roadkill. They often put the “expectation” on the left, which is the pretty princess cake, and “reality” on the right” which is the drunk gargoyle looking result. If you have nothing to do today, and you want a laugh, go google “cake fails”. You can thank me later.

So why am I taking cake fails on the blog today? Because Stopping at Satisfied is a pristine example of where expectations looks one way, and reality often looks really really different. Today we’ll talk about the progression people go through, because I know that hearing about the steps will save you lots of frustration on your journey as you break up with binge eating.

Expectation versus reality. In my book Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss, chapter 3 is titled Eating Just Enough. The concept is simple enough - most rational adults can see how it aids weight loss to eat enough but not any extra. However, I know, and more than 10,000 readers also know, that eating just enough is not as easy as deciding to stop at satisfied and then stopping at satisfied. It is SO NOT that simple.

So on the left, we have expectation: "Step 1, I’ll decide to stop at satisfied, step 2, I’ll stop at satisfied at each meal, and boom, weight loss!"  And then on the right, we have reality, which is vastly more complicated. There are slips where you overeat, they are slips when you under-eat, there are stressful moments, there are times you notice when you’re full and keep eating anyway, and there will be times you blaze right past satisfied without ever noticing until much much later.

It’s this complicated for almost everyone, even people who haven’t struggled with binge eating. For our clients who are working to recover for binge eating - I’ll be frank, the process can have even more steps. But it’s possible all the same, and I hear from people every week who say “OMG I FINALLY AM DOING IT, it’s took 8.5 months”, or “it took 2 years!” and they common thing is they are really happy they didn’t give up.

You might not be at the absolute beginning of this progression, but for the sake of the podcast, we’ll assume you are. You might have a head start and be a bit further along, but if you are a total newbie at using satiety signals, here’s where we begin.

1. Know what you’re looking for.

Satisfied is the feeling that we get after hunger goes away, if we keep eating, but before we get uncomfortably full. It’s a range more than one specific bite. Your goal is just to notice when you’re in the range. You probably feel more relaxation in your body, and you may even have a small sigh. Try to notice this feeling, but giving yourself complete permission to keep right on eating if you want to. At this stage, it’s not about how much you eat, it’s about how much you tune in and notice. 

2. Notice the feeling when you are satisfied, and insert a pause.

We recommend 30 seconds to one minute. Drink some water, take a few deeps breaths, wipe your mouth with your napkin and converse for a second before you resume eating. Again, totally fine if you keep eating and even if you overeat, the goal here is to take the pause. If you paused, you nailed it, regardless of where the meal ended up.

3. Try to eat less far into the red zone.

I use the term red zone to describe the range of feelings we get after satisfied. As you’ve probably found, you can eat until you’re a little too full, or a lot too full, or even until you feel sick and in pain. If you regularly eat until you are very far into the red zone, notice what’s going on and put on your creative hat to see if you can make the smallest shift to go less far into the red zone. Using portion techniques can be a big help in this phase. If the amount of food you put on your plate takes you into a state of feeling quite stuffed, maybe put just a little less on your plate, reassuring yourself that you’ll still be plenty full, just not so stuffed. At restaurants, many people ask for a box when the food comes out, so they can put some food aside and not have it all right in front of them, luring them to eat until they can’t possibly eat anymore. Again, keep trying to take the 30-60 second pause when you notice the small sigh, or feeling of satisfied. If you want to keep eating, just try to limit the extent past the pause.

4. Lengthen the pause to several minutes.

Try to relax and take deep breaths. During these few minutes, you may find your mindset shifting. The food cools off, your brain is getting some more signals that you have eaten. After the few minutes, consider if you want to put the food away or keep eating. You might realize you’re okay with putting it away (and you can always go get it later if you find you need it).

5. Plan the next thing you will do after the meal, and go do that thing when you notice you are satisfied.

This is where you actually practice the big leap: you try and stop when you feel satisfied. Reassure yourself that in an hour if you are dying for food you can go get some food to eat, but just try. If you find you’re hitting satisfied while other people are eating and you don’t want to excuse yourself, you might practice eating more slowly, so you aren’t finishing and then having to sit at the table for a long time. If you do end up with this scenario at home, you can always put your plate in the sink or dishwasher and return to the table to chat until the meal is done.

6. Try stopping at satisfied more consistently over time.

Allow for mistakes. You might do it once a day for a week, say, just at breakfast (which many people find easiest). Then, maybe you try at breakfast and lunch for a week. Keep the big picture in mind. And remember all practice counts. If you stop at satisfied at one meal and then at the next meal you overeat drastically, you still got the rep in of successfully practice - and that’s building you ability up. Remember to account for dessert in your satisfied practice, don’t get 100% full on the main course if you know you want dessert and eating it will take you into the red zone. While you work on this skill you really don’t have to make any changes to WHAT you are eating, it’s all about working with the signals from your body to optimize the quantity of food you eat. So if you’re in the habit of chocolate cream pie for every meal, you can just keep on eating chocolate cream pie for every meal while you practice stopping at satisfied.

I have a few tips for you about this progression, since I’ve done it with thousands of people.  Notice the positive benefits all along the way, just like hunger. Consider what you are saying YES to and not just on the food you are deciding not to have at this moment. Are you saying yes to a healthier body? Better sleep, less reflux? Are you saying yes to feeling proud and in control? Are you saying yes to a life where you don’t have to count calories anymore? Stopping at satisfied is a lot more about what you are getting, than what you are giving up.  You’re getting your needs met, you’re getting satisfied - you’re just avoiding the excess.

It also incredibly helpful to reduce distractions during meal time, using them as Next Things. Putting the phone or laptop away until after you eat can help you get better at noticing your satisfaction signals because you won’t be distracted. And if you are looking forward to watching a show or reading a website, you’ll be happy to do it after the meal, so it can help motivate you to stop eating and move onto the thing you want to watch, read or play.

I hope you find this progression helpful in your journey to leave binge eating behind you and take steps towards your weight loss goals. I love to think of this sequence as learning to meet our needs exactly, instead of overeating in a binge, then undereating on a diet, then overeating, and undereating ... that’s just making the same mistake over and over in opposite directions. Stopping at satisfied, each meal becomes a repeat of hitting the nail on the head. Meeting our needs again and again and again. We can save the roller-coasters for amusement parks, right?

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