It is common to think that knowing how much to eat is about focusing on how full you feel and how to stop eating when you feel that fullness. In reality, though, eating an amount that works well for your body is less about learning to feel your fullness and more about ensuring you’re not getting too hungry or depriving yourself. Finding a place of comfortable fullness comes naturally when your body stops feeling deprived. Beyond this, if we tune into satisfaction, we are much more likely to eat until we feel adequately nourished rather than uncomfortably full. Read on for the difference between fullness vs satisfaction and why satisfaction is known as the “hub” of intuitive eating.
To dive more deeply into these ideas, take a look at my book Unapologetic Eating: Make Peace with Food and Transform Your Life.
The Difference Between Fullness and Satisfaction
It’s possible and even common to feel full without feeling satisfied. Say, for example, you were to eat a large bowl of raw vegetables or a meal of baked chicken, brown rice, and sautéed spinach that you thought you should be eating but weren’t actually interested in eating. Afterward, your stomach may feel physically full, but you probably would not feel satisfied. When you aren’t satisfied, you will often continue to eat more food or fantasize about certain foods in search of that feeling of satisfaction, even if you aren’t hungry.
As Rachael Hartley, a fellow registered dietitian, explains: “Fullness is the physical sensation of satiety, while satisfaction is the mental sensation of satiety.”
Satisfaction is the hub of intuitive eating. If you aren’t happy or satisfied with the foods you are eating, it’s hard to develop a healthy relationship with food. It’s important to find the pleasure associated with food in order to feel satisfied and content. You’ll find that the more pleasure you get from food, the easier it is to eat to a place of comfortable fullness and not think about food all of the time.
Satisfaction is a better indicator than fullness for deciding when your body is ready to stop eating.
This is why it’s important to think not only about what foods make you feel full, but what foods bring you pleasure and satisfaction as well. It may be hard to figure out what foods are most satisfying to you, especially if you’ve been dieting for a while or are used to following food rules. Diets tell you what to eat, which can make you overlook what your body actually wants to eat. But with some practice, you can figure out what foods give you the most pleasure, and it will become easier to enjoy your food and eat in a way that makes you feel good.
Finding ‘Comfortable’ Fullness
When you restrict the amounts or types of foods you are eating, your body goes into starvation mode. Even if you are eating “enough” food, if you aren’t letting yourself eat certain foods or types of foods, your body thinks you are in a time of scarcity. It is seeking satisfaction that would only be found from eating the foods you are not allowing yourself to have. You may therefore eat to a point of uncomfortable fullness during meal and snack times so you can “survive” that time of scarcity. You may also have the tendency to feel out of control when eating the forbidden or restricted foods.
Once you stop restricting food types or quantities, it takes some time for your body to readjust. If those foods or those amounts weren’t allowed for a long time, there will be a period of eating to a point of uncomfortable fullness until your body becomes used to having those foods around. Once those foods lose their power as the “forbidden fruits,” you will naturally begin to stop eating when you are comfortably full much of the time, because your body knows you can have that food again whenever you would like.
Eating to a point of comfortable fullness actually has less to do with “making” yourself stop eating when you’re full and more to do with ensuring you are no longer feeling deprived.
So, rather than focusing on not “overeating,” try shifting your focus to eating foods you enjoy and not depriving yourself, and, in time, you will be amazed at how natural it becomes to pay attention to and follow your fullness.
How to Build A Satisfying Meal
Follow these two steps to find that sweet spot between fullness and satisfaction.
1. Ask yourself “what foods do I enjoy the taste of?”
For a food to be satisfying, it needs to taste good.
- Make a list of foods that you enjoy eating, whether that is the taste, the texture, the smell, etc. The foods that are satisfying to you may change from day to day or even meal to meal.
- Before each meal, take a moment to pause and think about what food sounds good to you at that moment in time. If you’ve been dieting for awhile or are used to following food rules, this may be hard at first. Play around with it and take note of how satisfied (or unsatisfied) you feel after eating different foods.
For example, one of my clients realized that hot foods at breakfast satisfy her way more than cold foods. She would be just as full if she ate a yogurt bowl, but she wouldn’t feel satisfied. Once she realized this and started eating hot meals like eggs or breakfast sandwiches, she was able to stay full and satisfied for much longer.
2. Include carbohydrate, protein and fat.
These three nutrients signal fullness by releasing hunger-suppressing hormones and raising your blood sugar. While it’s possible to fill up your stomach with low calorie/high volume foods (going back to that huge bowl of vegetables), without protein, fat or carbohydrates, your body won’t feel satisfied.
If you’re interested in better understanding your feelings of satisfaction and fullness, try some of the below tips:
1. Reduce distractions during mealtimes. Trying some meals without technology at hand can help you pay better attention to the meal itself and your enjoyment of it.
2. Eat mindfully. Try eating some meals where you take time to savor the food you are eating. Pay attention to how it looks, smells, feels and tastes.
3. Take a pause. Fullness is regulated by the hypothalamus in the brain. When your body has enough food to meet its needs, signals are sent to the hypothalamus. But it takes some time for those signals to travel to the brain. If you pause halfway through your meal, it will take you off autopilot so you can check in.
4. Try the hunger-fullness scale. One tool that can help you tune into your body’s more subtle feelings is the Hunger-Fullness Scale.
5. Don’t be afraid to leave leftovers. Dieting causes us to feel like we “have” to eat at meal times – when it is allowed – so leaving food behind can be difficult. On top of that, many of us were raised with the “clean plate” mentality. If you’re afraid of wasting food, give yourself permission to put food away for later if you’re feeling “done” eating.
In time, you will naturally eat the amount of food your body needs. This amount changes from day to day based on multiple factors, including how active you are, how much sleep you got last night, how much stress you’re under, and even what you ate the day before.
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Can you think of some foods that fill you up, but aren’t satisfying? Share below!
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