I know a lot of proponents of Paleo believe it can be done unweighed/unmeasured if you stick to the Paleo food guidelines and you will maintain your weight and possibly even lose weight.
People suggest listening to your body or eating to satiety.
Personally, I know that's not possible for me. If I eat without counting I overeat to the point of gaining weight. Even if I just eat meat, fat and moderate fruits and vegetables. If I don't eat 3 meals + snacks, I get over hungry and make bad food choices.
I don't usually know I've overeaten until I'm done and feel terrible. Sometimes, I'll even think "I feel full, but this tastes wonderful, so I am going to keep eating."
So, my question is what does it feel like to be full? How do you know when to stop eating? Is it a physical sensation? Or a mental place? What am I looking for in regards to a signal?
I have an idea that might seem a little crazy, but I think there could be something to it. Is it possible that if you (the general "you," not Melissa in particular) eat ad libitum, i.e., as much as you want, then you might eat an insane number of calories at one meal, gorging yourself to a seemingly absurd level of fullness -- and then just not eat again for an entire day? What if the problem is not that you're listening to your body when you shouldn't be -- because you're broken -- but instead that you're not listening to your body enough?
I have a friend who I got to switch over to paleo. She started out eating a pretty low level of carbohydrate, but has since taken up fruit again and feels good at a level of about 20-25% of her calories from carbs. She hasn't lost a significant amount of weight, but she didn't really have any weight to lose (maybe she thought so but she is certainly at a very healthy weight and looks great). The most important thing is that she feels so much happier these days because she finally feels full all the time, thanks to animal fat. Anyhow, when she started out I told her to just let herself eat as much as she wanted to, and she just went with it -- she shocked herself by eating 9 eggs in a single meal, etc. And sure enough, on the day after a meal like that she ate comparatively little, less than she ate on a normal day before switching to paleo.
Maybe eating to fullness actually requires even more food than we think it does, but if we gorge ourselves the body still has a capacity to compensate for it later? And maybe when we're eating "moderate"-sized meals we're still not giving the body what it might need to heal?
Just a thought. I'm sure that other people have tried this before, and I'm also quite sure that not everyone is like my friend: maybe if you eat a ton at one meal then you'll just eat a ton at the next meal, and will end up gaining weight. But maybe it's worth trying if it hasn't been tried. I definitely don't want to sound like I'm not being sensitive of other people's difficulties in this area, and that's why I want it to sound like I'm "just throwin' and idea out there" and not telling anyone "the way things should be."
Sherpamelissa, I am struggling with this right now too. I do the exact same thing: keep eating when I am not sure that I am full. In fact, if I am very strict on my food and lose weight for two weeks, then I get intense cravings and for lack of a better word "fall off the wagon" either by overeating paleo food or even eating something neolithic and gross that I do not want. Trying to learn "what does it feel like to be full" does not work for me, has not worked for me, so I am changing tactics. In other words I am going to quit expecting different results from doing the same thing! Ha ha novel concept right? That is insanity according to the popular quote (attributed to Einstein I think).
So my new approach is to try to LEARN WHAT REAL HUNGER IS (versus mental, social, clock hunger) instead of trying to learn what "full" feels like. This approach may not work for everyone, and I can see how it would be hard to do if you have small children and have to make sure they are eating three meals a day. But I am working on "not eating by the clock" (Stephen-Aegis suggestion) and really studied quite a bit of research on fasting (posted by Rob Sacks). A 16/8 fast did not work for me and in fact just made me more likely to over-eat during the 8 hour window. Completing a longer fast last week (75 hours) was not as hard as I thought it would be, and the first meal I actually ate a smaller amount than I had been eating, and this effect has still continued for the last few days. Don't get me wrong--although I want to lose some weight and get a more muscular body comp, I tried this extended fast as a new way to solve the "hungry/full" problem we are discussing, not as a crash attempt to get to a number on the scale. The difficult thing to do is to *avoid the family, social or clock pressure to eat when you are not hungry (versus learning to stop eating when paleo food tastes so good). In other words, don't be afraid to shake things up and do something different for a few weeks. Big deal if it doesnt work and you gain a few pounds, at least you tried a new tactic and learned something about yourself, you can always go back to counting calories.
If I say "I can't" then the outcome is already determined. Avoid that mind-set at all costs! This is what seems to be helping me right now, good luck to you whatever tactic you use!
To me, feeling full is mainly physical. It feels like my stomach is stretched and that if I eat any more, my stomach will actually hurt. But at the same time, is a very subtle feeling, and easy to ignore/over-ride. Its less a feeling of "I'VE had enough" and more of a feeling of there's enough in there. To me, it's a matter of feeling the feeling from my stomach's point of view and not MY point of view, if that makes any sense.
I never knew satiation before paleo. Before, even if my stomach felt stuffed, for some reason, my brain wanted more. Now, sometimes or often, I will feel too busy to listen to my stomach. Like right now, my stomach has been growling for an hour or more, but I keep saying, just one more email, just one more email.. SO the urge to eat only comes physically, not much mentally. Mentally, I am more interested in emailing. Later, I will get my steak and eat some, but I will lose interest faster. I may stop for another email, and forget to go back to it, and then later I will realize I haven't finished yet. Maybe I will eat a few more bites, but then it will be cold and not as tasty. I will then either pack it for lunch at work tomorrow, save it, or give it to the dog. (when saved meat starts to accumulate in the fridge, then doggy gets more snacks..) However, sometimes food will taste extra good and I will try to finish it. I keep eating past the point of satiation, until the act of eating gets less and less pleasant. Finally the unpleasantness is too strong. I don't want to eat anymore so I stop. The body wins in the end, but this happens mostly with meat. It's hard to eat a huge ton of meat all at once. Plus, overtime, the point where I get too stuffed to eat any more starts to happen with smaller and smaller portions. It was a gradual and very natural progresssion and I think this way is the healthiest. If you weigh a lot, then I don't think it's healthy to suddenly totally cut calories to be very low. Instead I think the healthy way is that over time, you eat less and less. Paleo did that for me naturally such that I really didnt have to think about it. All I had to think about was avoiding the occasional temptation at work where they often have tons of sugary snacks.
I'm the same way, but since I detest counting and think, for me, it's counterproductive (It's hard for me to look at a meal without subconsciously tallying calorie count). I tend to wait as long as I can, then eat as much as I want, the rest of the day is spare save for coffee and cream, which I seem to be able to ration without getting neurotic.
After a few weeks of ZC, I get to the point where I start pushing food away when I'm done. But I'm not militant about it and will usually revert every few weeks for berries or tubers of some sort. For me, it comes down to deciding how rather I would lose/maintain weight. Either ZC forever with no counting or even consideration of limiting anything, or carbs and keeping "strict" with one meal a day. I usually fall somewhere in the middle, but the more carbs I eat, the more trouble I have with appetite, so I tend to stay closer to ZC for sanity sake. Yams are delicious, but they drive me crazy.
I recommend you look into books by Geneen Roth. Among other amazing and informative topics, she writes about the dangers of not trusting your instincts or your own body. The fear that if left to your own devices you would consume the world and continually gain weight fosters the notion that you must deprive yourself to remain "on-track" or sensible when it comes to what you consume, and the other side of deprivation is bingeing. Bingeing is usually inevitable when a person tries very hard to restrict herself/himself. This has certainly been my experience.
I can't recommend her books enough. I would start with Breaking Free from Emotional Eating. If you aren't listening to physical triggers and signs, then you are likely listening to emotional ones.
Oh, my switch is SO broken. The bad thing is, I don't ever recall HAVING that switch working effectively. In high school I only stayed trim by virtue of swimming two hours a day and counting calories. (Hey, I was taking things like an applesauce and two fun size candy bars for lunch, so it wasn't exactly quality food, but the lunches I packed were indeed low calorie) - so it was chronic cardio and sheer willpower then.
Starting a meal generates huge momentum for me, and I blow right by that satiation point, wherever it was, before I know it and just feel ughfull. As I've mentioned before, I know that I need some objective limits rather than subjective if I'm going to make progress - and maybe, maybe after reaching some big goals could I relax a bit, but I really doubt it - too dangerous to slip into my old limit-ignoring ways.
Closely journalling my food intake seems to be my most logical solution at this point. Unfortunately (not excusing, just explaining), being a mother of two kids aged 3 and 1, the painstaking work involved in measuring serving sizes, finding the stuff in an online database, etc. gets difficult to maintain pretty quickly - and I've actually tried it a few times without being able to keep at it longer than about a week.
I've been wondering about this! For me it's urge to binge - to physically fill my belly to the point of being stuffed. To cram my mouth full of something and swallow. I was lucky I wasn't outright obese or bulimic! And I might have been either/both if I had let it continue a few more years. OMG the stuff I ate when I once tried to diet, lost 20 lbs, then gained it all back again!
But it's interesting, in retrospect: my horrible binge food was (yikes this is still hard to confess) was this: I'd make a full sized batch of oatmeal raisin cookie dough - and eat it all with a spoon. I used to think it was a weird self punishment. But now I wonder: what if it wasn't the sugar I craved but the BUTTER?
One thing I've learned is to avoid fasting. That 'good' feeling of a hollow belly? That certain pride in having conquered a compulsion for a while? I now know it's a sign to RUN - not walk - to the nearest jar of coconut oil or slab of bacon and eat my fill. Intentional hunger is (for me) nothing to feel smug over and will almost always backfire. If it's a war between my will and my body, my body will win every time and with a vengeance. That said, if I accidentally miss a meal I don't sweat over it either. Maybe I'll try a bone broth fast one day, but not until my body feels safe from my phony pride...
I'm still binging a little - I eat far beyond satiety still, and still stuff my mouth with food. But it's all calmer now, less desperate. AND I've lost almost 30 lbs in spite of it.
Another thing: how big my belly feels has almost no relationship to my weight. I'll have breakfast and be 100% sure I've gained 10 lb but then the scale shows I've lost 3 lbs. Go figure.
I've been thinking of trying a FAT fast - only eat mostly saturated fats and drink water for a couple weeks. That should beat that 'hunger pride' feeling!
This works, but not when it comes to carbohydrates. Keep strict control of carbs and then eat whatever else you want until you reach satiety. Carbs almost solely determine adiposity.
Edit: I'm of the opinion that adiposity is the intersection between carb intake, activity and BMR. All of these values can be modified, but it's easiest to alter carb intake, followed by activity and lastly BMR. BMR is only really affected by an increase in lean body mass, which takes a long time to change substantially. If you lower carbs from 50 to 30g a day, your overall hunger for the day will decrease and your body will count calories for you.
I wonder if you're just psyching yourself out. You've been counting calories for a long time, I'm sure you have all the know-how to eat what works for you. Willpower is a curious thing. Sometimes you really have to test it to see what you're capable of.
I know you've said in the past that you gain weight if you don't count calories. How long have you gone not counting? Like everything else, there may be a transition period as you switch to trusting yourself instead of trusting the numbers.
I keep documentation too, so I understand the inclination to record everything. Sometimes it's a leap of faith though. If you give your body a fair chance to learn what satiety is you may find that it is possible for you. Don't sell yourself short. You've accomplished so much already.