Food For Thought

Tired of "controlling" portions? The Swedish philosophy of lagom may be a better fit


Woman reaching for slice of pizza

If, like me, you've spent most of your adulthood watching your weight or monitoring your eating, at some point (many points?) you may want to just "stop the madness!"


How wonderful would it be to NOT spend a bunch of time thinking about how much you're eating? Thoughts like Why can't I just eat a normal amount of food like other people? or I've got to stop overeating like this! take up quite a bit of brain space for some of us. All this mental laboring over our food and every bite we take is so exhausting.


And then there are the actions involved in keeping portions in line: the planning, prepping, dividing and perhaps weighing or measuring food. Maybe you're even keeping track of things on app (Oh no, I have no calories left and it's only 4 pm!) Listen, I'm totally on board with some of these things—when done in moderation or as a way to "check in" on one's typical portions (looking at you, giant cereal bowl). But doing all this day after day is downright drudgery. I know because I've done it all. For years.


All this mental laboring over every bite is exhausting

There is also some fear around NOT maintaining control of your food intake. What will happen if I loosen the reins and let up on all my control measures? Images of ourselves diving face first into a giant bowl of tortilla chips and queso flash through our minds. Maybe it's too risky.


I get it. It's hard to let go of behaviors we've had for years—even if we really want to do so. If you're sick of it all, but not willing to just throw moderate eating out the window, I have an idea for you, it's lagom.


Moving toward lagom

The Swedish word lagom (pronounced la-gum) translates as "just the right amount." It's a philosophy that emphasizes balance, and one that provides a sense of ease and contentment. In other words, it's being able to notice that Goldilocks moment of something feeling "just right," and relishing it.


Noticing that Goldilocks moment of something feeling "just right," and relishing it

Lagom is what I want for my eating style, what I aspire to (and am still working on). I want to be able to say to myself "Yes, I do want some of that cheesecake," and then trust that my body and mind will work together to see that I enjoy just the right amount of that cheesecake. Lagom wins the day when we can tune in enough to know that three wonderful bites of cheesecake feels right, but the whole piece would feel like too much.


Bringing lagom to your life

It's not like moderation or balance are new ideas of course. Most of us have been taught that "all things in moderation" is a smart approach to things like food and drink. And lagom fits perfectly into the concept of moderation.


Without the trappings of forced portion- and appetite-control measures, you may feel untethered. That feeling of freedom can be a bit scary for someone who has spent a lot of time trying to feel "in control" around food. Rest assured, lagom is not about hoping that you'll stop eating before the entire carton of ice cream is gone.


Instead of feeling pulled to control your food and thereby yourself, how about starting to cultivate trust in your body? Could you direct your attention inward to the point where you're catching the hints your body is sending you about hunger, fullness and satisfaction in real time? With practice, you can, and that builds trust between you and your body. Why kind of hints am I talking about? In general, the hints come from sensory differences that occur at different points in the eating experience. From there, you can use that information to guide you in determining whether you want more food, or if you've had enough.

Can you direct your attention inward to the point where you are catching the hints your body is giving?

3 tips for putting lagom into practice

To start practicing lagom in your own life, I have three suggestions which, when utilized regularly and consistently, can help you more naturally select and eat portions of food that are just right for you.


Slow down your eating

This is crucial. If you eat quickly, you don't have time to give attention to those hints from your body. Putting mindful eating skills into practice, such as focusing on the food's taste, texture, temperature, eye-appeal and aroma, and appreciating all it took to get that food to your plate—can go a long way toward slowing down your eating pace. Aim for taking at least 20 minutes to eat a meal (30 is even better). You don't have to set a timer or anything, but you should put your phone away, set aside your book or newspaper, turn off the TV/computer and let yourself have time to enjoy your food and the company you may have at the meal. Simply taking time to savor your food will naturally slow you down.

Notice when you feel good and balanced after eating

In order to get used to knowing what "just right" feels like to you, you'll need to notice it at a time when you've achieved it in real life. You can practice by eating slowly, pausing every so often, putting down your fork or spoon, and taking note of how your body feels as you work through your meal. When you get to a point that feels good to you—you aren't stuffed, you aren't still hungry and you're feeling content and satisfied, try to hold that feeling close. Close your eyes and let that feeling wash over you; try to commit to memory how great this amount of fullness feels in your body. This will take practice; it's ok, there's no rushing with lagom.


Balance your plate (or bowl)

When you eat balanced meals, you'll feel more balanced physically and mentally. Keep it simple by aiming to fill half your plate filled with vegetables, a quarter with protein foods and a quarter with carbohydrates—preferably whole grain carbs (check Myplate.gov for extensive tips and ideas on achieving a balanced plate). Hint: in real life, most of us are lacking in veggies and fruit more than protein or carbs. So, take a look at your plate before you eat and make sure there is some sort of veggie or veggie+fruit on it. In fact, the more veggies the better, so feel free to heap those veggies on there.


I find lagom such an appealing concept, and of course, it can be applied to many areas of life. The is power in trusting your body and learning to let you body lead.Let me know in the comments if the idea of lagom appeals to you, or if you already have put it into practice in your life.

Looking to "dig in" to finally changing your eating habits?

Join our community of like-minded folks who are learning the ins and outs of habit change with me and our supportive FB group, the Eating Habits Lab. 

Join us for free—we are always happy to welcome new lab partners!