Principle #5 of Intuitive Eating… (this marks halfway!)
Feel Your Fullness.
Not only is it important to honor your hunger (read about that in principle #3!), but we also must listen for the signs that our body is no longer hungry. Honoring hunger and respecting fullness are different sides of the same coin; they both involve eating mindfully and trusting your body. If you aren’t honoring your hunger and are forcing yourself into a ravenous state, your chances of overeating when you do get around to a meal are very likely.
The same way that our body sends hunger cues when it needs food, we can observe signs of being comfortably full, too.
Some common signs of fullness include:
Pressure and/or discomfort in your stomach
Beginning to feel sluggish
No longer enjoying the food
The signs of hunger have diminished
for this principle, there is one big takeaway:
Practice conscious eating to find comfortable satiety.
Ways to do this? Read on.
1. Tune in while you eat.
I know I’m extremely guilty of eating while I’m working, watching TV, or scrolling through Instagram. Getting rid of these distractions allows you to truly enjoy your meal, savoring the flavor and aroma, chewing each bite thoroughly. SO SLOW DOWN. Being tuned in also means paying attention to how hungry you are at the start of a meal and when your body hits the point of fullness and satisfaction.
2. Pause in the middle of a meal and ask yourself:
Does this food still taste good? Is it still pleasurable?
What is my current fullness level?
3. Don’t feel obligated to leave food on your plate.
Sometimes you’ll reach fullness and satisfaction before the food on your plate is gone. Don’t feel the need to stuff the rest of the food down if your body doesn’t need it. As long as you allow yourself to eat again when hunger hits, your body will appreciate you stopping at a level of comfortable fullness. It’s not uncommon for past dieters to feel they must “clean their plate”, having experienced some sort of food scarcity in the past. Because they’ve felt deprived, there is a need to finish food at any given chance. On the other hand, though, if you finish the food on your plate and still aren’t satisfied, honor that too, and find something to satisfy your remaining hunger. It’s not an absence of willpower to finish your food or even grab something extra after.
In answering the question “What is my current fullness level?”, it’s helpful to use a scale like the one below.
The hungrier you are when you start eating, the higher your fullness number is likely to be when you stop. Beginning to eat when you hit a 3 or a 4 gives you more likely of a chance to stop when you hit 6 or 7—satisfied, but not overfull.
When you’ve finished your meal, assess your fullness level again with the scale. Are you comfortably full? Uncomfortably full? Satisfied? Still hungry? Comfortable fullness typically stands around a 6 or a 7. You’re comfortably full, not overstuffed, and no longer hungry or thinking about food.
We ALL have the power to listen to our bodies in this way, but many individuals have ignored these signs and signals for so long that they must intentionally work to get back in tune with them.
IF THAT’S YOU: Working with a dietitian can help guide you back to successfully identifying hunger and fullness cues. Likewise, if you find yourself feeling out of control and consistently eating very large amounts of food and/or to a very uncomfortable state, seeing a professional can help.
Some other things to remember and practice are:
1. Stop comparing your needs to somebody else’s.
Every BODY has different needs, and those needs change each day depending on a number of factors such as physical activity, hormones, sleep, etc. We don’t all eat the same foods, the same amounts, or at the same times every day. Sometimes you’ll eat more than everybody around, sometimes people will eat more than you, and sometimes some people won’t eat anything at all. No matter what, your only responsibility is to listen to YOUR body and honor what it needs in that moment. Nobody else’s choices should directly influence yours.
2. Know that it’s okay to overeat sometimes; it happens.
There are many reasons that we might overeat: holidays, vacation, a crazy schedule, an emotional time. It’s also very common to overeat after you’ve newly given yourself unconditional permission to eat what and when you want on your intuitive eating journey. Your body just has to learn to trust you again. Balance will come. The important thing is to not restrict in any way after you do overeat. This is just going to perpetuate the diet cycle. You might feel even more hungry than usual the next meal or the next day, you might feel less hungry. There’s no right or wrong answer, just respect what your body is telling you.
3. You have a right to say no.
Often at social events, hosts may try and “push” food onto their guests. You can say no. You don’t have to eat just because somebody wants you too. If the food does sound good to you, though, please accept it and enjoy it.
4. You won’t always eat the same amount of food.
Some foods might keep you fuller for a longer period of time, some days your normal amount of food at a certain meal may not be enough. Many factors can play into our feelings of fullness such as:
How long it’s been since your last meal—if it’s been quite a few hours, you may need some extra fuel.
What you’re actually eating—different carbohydrates, fiber content, protein, and fat all influence your fullness and satiety. A key practice here is to incorporate a complex carbohydrate, source of protein, source of fat, and fiber into each meal (and ideally at least two different groups in a snack). Balanced meals will provide your body with the nutrients that it needs while increasing satiety.
Another common road bump to feeling your fullness is this:
what if you’re afraid to eat to the point of fullness?
This is the case in many individuals that have struggled with disordered eating habits. What I can tell you is this: going through life hungry is no way to live. You will continue to feel preoccupied with food, often irritable and with low energy. Eating until you are full and satisfied is the only way to build mutual trust with your body.
If you’re consistently under-eating (maybe only eating to about a 5 on the hunger-fullness scale), restricting certain foods or setting them as “off-limits”, compulsively exercising, are underweight (or under YOUR body’s ideal weight)… you’re most likely going to experience skewed hunger and fullness cues.
Often times individuals will also feel they’ve reached “fullness” but still can’t stop eating, or are “full” but not “satisfied”. I’ll talk more about these in the following principles, so stay tuned!
Learning to feel your fullness takes practice, patience, and intention. There is no failing, and sometimes you are going to eat past fullness or while you’re distracted watching TV. That’s okay. This is about learning to connect with your body’s signals, not about being perfect.
Get ready for principle #6!