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How Much is Enough

Note: This is part of a short series of posts relating to the Mindful Eating cycle in the Am I Hungry? program, where each part looks at one of the decision points that goes into eating – why, when, what, how, how much, and where you spend your energy. This section looks at how much we eat. Learn more here or at

How do you know how much to eat?

It feels like an odd question. Shouldn’t this be obvious? Maybe, but that doesn’t mean it is.

For instance, everything packaged comes with a serving size, restaurants serve pre-defined portions, and even when you make something from scratch, the recipe indicates how many people it should feed. And for many people, the amount is more than you need.

Nor is this a new phenomenon. In At Home: A Short History of Private Life, Bill Bryson shared a mid-19th century menu for a “small” dinner party for six: “mock turtle soup; fillets of turbot in cream; fried sole with anchovy sauce; rabbits; veal; stewed rump of beef; roasted fowls; boiled ham; a platter of roasted pigeons or larks; and, to finish, rhubarb tartlets, meringues, clear jelly, cream, rice pudding, and soufflé.” (p. 82) I feel a little full just reading it!

Yet even if we’re presented with too much, it’s hard for us to recognize that; hence the phrase, “My eyes were bigger than my stomach.” Many studies have shown how badly we judge portion size based on different size dishes (here’s one example). Personally, even though I know this, psychologically I still feel as if I’m eating more when I use a small dish, even if it’s the exact same amount as in a larger dish.

Which brings me back to the question: how do you know how much to eat?

My suggestion is to pay attention to how you feel, physically. Not how much food is left, or what the (suggested) serving size is, or what other people are eating, but what’s going on in your body.

The goal I am for is to eat until I’m not hungry anymore. Not until I’m full, but simply satisfied. It’s a fine distinction, but an important one. Sometimes I can achieve this with something small – maybe a few nuts and a piece of fruit – or something more substantial. Sometimes I overshoot (occasionally even undershoot), but at least it’s me making the decision based on my knowledge of myself, not some stranger’s guess, and I find that makes all the difference.

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