Eating at home

Eating at home means eating familiar food. Stuff you've been eating for years and years. There's a lot of nostalgia involved. And there is a lot of preset patterns involved too.

My dad used to tell us this story of him growing up. Living in a communist family with 6 mouths to feed, portions were strictly rationed. As the eldest, his quota for breakfast was 3 idlis. His father, my grandfather, comes from a village in the Kumbakonam district and they would visit frequently. Back at the ancestral home, things worked differently. There was food in abundance. When my dad would sit with the other kids (not just his siblings but all the other cousins and what-not), he would stop at 3 idlis. When asked if he wanted more, he apparently responded "But I already ate 3". After much laughter, he was served more. And more.

Photo by Shreyak Singh / Unsplash

Like my dad, we all have a number set in our heads. While circumstances may be different, repetitive patterns and years of eating has set this number.

If it is dosai for dinner, you already know the number of dosais you eat. If it is paratha for dinner, you know how many you are going to eat. If it is rice for dinner, you know you are going to have sambar, rasam, and duh, of course some curd rice too.

Your appetite has been trained by you, more or less. Your stomach size is also developed over the years. So, come dinner time, you know what and how much of it is going in. But how can that be?

If you are someone who wants to eat a bit more intuitively and slowly, this is the post for you.

Patterns again

This preset number, this pattern of "the clock strikes this o'clock and so I am going to eat this much food" is useful but when our current eating habits are the issue, this is a ripe place to change.

Conversations with not just my students but with my aunts and uncles and acquaintances who are not into what I do, a pattern becomes obvious. Most of you eat more than you need. This has to do with a combination of factors - habits and patterns, as well as eating a meal that is low in nutrients and fibre.

I want to address the first part in this post.

For the latter, up your food quality aka eat more protein and vegetables. You know the drill.

Eating signals

If we eat when we are hungry and based on how hungry we are, we determine quantity, it is a big shift.

If you had a heavy workout, you are probably gonna have a bigger appetite.

If you had a day where you were stuck in front of your laptop and moved minimally, you need lesser food than a normal day.

Eat when you are hungry. Eat until satiety. These are 2 guidelines that can liberate you from your preset patterns of not just overconsumption but consuming the wrong amounts.

But maybe this is a bit too open-ended. How can we improve on this?

Setting a timer

Training wheels are useful.

What if you set a timer on your phone for 20 minutes when you started eating? You can ignore your timer after but your goal is to finish approximately around the 20 minute mark.

Photo by Florian Klauer / Unsplash

Remember, these are just training wheels.

You will not need to eat with this timer for the rest of your life. Just you being aware of the pace you are eating at will create change.

And let's add one more guideline. How about you wait 5 minutes after finishing, before you decide on a second helping?

Putting it together

The broad guidelines we start with are

  1. Eat when you are hungry.
  2. Eat until satiety.

But these guidelines fail many times. Eating at a schedule, eating as a family, social obligations - all of this might not allow us to follow #1.

Eating to satiety is a hard skill because of the delayed signals the gut sends to the brain, to stop eating. By then, you've already had a bit more food than you needed.

So, we hack the meal with the following two guidelines.

3. Set a 20-minute timer and eat. If you finish early, wait for the 20 minutes to be over.

4. And wait a further 5-10 minutes before you get your second helping.

These take a bit of getting used to. But you'd be surprised by how your portions change when you follow these guidelines.

After all, we are what we ate. Years and years of mild overeating can cause us to put on some kilos. Hacking our habits to chip away at it is a game-changer.

Try this out for 2 weeks and let me know how it goes.

Think long-term. Think habits.