It is important to ensure hunger is present before adding food to the digestive system. The presence of hunger signifies the presence of digestive secretions. The mechanisms which tell our brain we feel satisfied are complex and interconnected; when the stomach fills with food or water, stretch receptors send a signal via the vagus nerve directly to the brain indicating the stomach is full; hormone signals, such as cholecystokinin (CCK), are released when food enters the small intestine; the hormone leptin communicates with the brain regarding energy needs and satiety and may also enhance other signals that signify fullness. Studies have shown that this intricate gut-brain connection through hormonal signaling takes some time to occur therefore eating too quickly may not provide the time necessary for adequate communication. One study using overweight and obese participants with type 2 diabetes mellitus found slow paced eating increased fullness and decreased hunger and so may be helpful in reducing overall food intake. By slowing down and bringing consciousness to eating, the mind can more easily recognize the hormonal signals that tell the brain when we are full.
Balancing blood sugar throughout the day is an important part of appetite and craving control. Allowing your blood sugar to drop significantly can lead to poor dietary choices, as your brain will start signaling its need for quick sources of glucose. Eating larger meals, spread out in the day, around the same time each day helps your body get into a natural hunger rhythm.
The amount of food served at a meal strongly influences the body’s awareness of fullness. Several well-controlled studies have shown how larger food portions lead to substantial increases in food intake, without increasing levels of satiety. Starting with a modest serving can be helpful when learning to identify signals of satisfaction.
To learn more about Mindful Eating, read the many other posts within the Mindful Practice category.