One of the most common questions I hear from clients is, “how much should I be eating?” From
calorie counting apps and fitness magazines to diets, keto and intermittent fasting, it’s hard to
know what to do.

But here’s the problem with all of these: they focus on rules and that pull you away from the best
calorie counter of all: your body! In fact, no one (I repeat, no one!) can tell you the right amount
to eat for you — because no one else lives in your body.

When you learn to tune into the signals your body is giving you about hunger and fullness, you’ll
learn the right amount to eat. Humans are dynamic and don’t need to eat the same amount
every day. In addition to your gender, age, bodyweight, body composition, and genetics, the
amount you need to eat can depend on:

  • How much you ate earlier in the day and yesterday
  • Quality and quantity of sleep
  • Stress levels
  • Exercise and other movement (including a day or two prior)
  • Hormonal changes throughout the female cycle

Learning to listen to and trust messages from your body can take practice and patience,
especially if you’ve been dieting and ignoring hunger and fullness cues for a long time. To start,
pay attention to what hunger feels like to you. Some ways people experience hunger include:

  • Stomach: grumbling, feeling of emptiness, nausea
  • Head: irritable, lightheadedness, inability to concentrate, fogginess, headache
  • Body: fatigue, weakness, shaky
  • Mind: thinking about food all the time or feeling preoccupied by food

You may experience only one of these symptoms of hunger or many of them, but pay close
attention because sometimes hunger shows up in unexpected ways.

The other piece of the puzzle is identifying fullness. Fullness typically first shows up in the
stomach as a physical feeling, but it can also be the absence of some of the symptoms of
hunger that you might experience such as improved mood (less irritability) and better
concentration and focus. As your stomach starts to become full, food sometimes becomes less
appealing and doesn’t taste quite as good as those first bites when you were very hungry.

If you find yourself overeating to the point of feeling stuffed or uncomfortable on a regular basis,
you may need a little more practice tuning into your body. Try pausing mid-meal to check in with
yourself to see how you’re feeling. Remember, tell yourself that the food will still be there in 15
minutes so give your body a chance to digest. You can always go back to it. And be mindful of
things that can get in the way such as:

  • Eating too quickly
  • Eating while distracted; while working, watching TV, feeding little kids, or while driving
  • Focusing on rules that dictate what and how much you are allowed to eat
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Lack of sleep

If this is a new way of thinking about food and how much to eat, be patient with yourself — it
may take some time to relearn those innate cues you were born with. Over time you will find
yourself naturally being able to identify hunger and fullness instead of focusing on calories or
other portioning rules.

As you learn this new way of eating, if you feel like you’re snacking or eating all day long, you
may not be balancing your meals or eating enough at a meal. Check out our post on how to
stop snacking all day for more tips.

Sarah Gold Anzlovar, MS, RDN, LDN is a registered dietitian, certified intuitive eating counselor,
and the owner of Sarah Gold Nutrition, a virtual private practice and nutrition communications
consulting business in the suburbs of Boston. She empowers busy women to ditch diets and
learn to eat to feel their best without the stress

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