exploring why feeling full (or even overly full) is not the sign of failure diet culture makes it out to be
If hunger is the enemy we fear, then fullness is the sign that the enemy has won. Thanks to diet culture’s mantra of ‘eating less is better,’ feelings of fullness subconsciously become synonymous with feelings of ‘failure.’ When we’re ‘full’ or even worse, ‘stuffed,’ diet culture had made us believe that it serves as a sign we have come up short in the goal to ‘control’ our hunger.
We’ve talked a lot lately about how making peace with all foods and learning to honor our hunger can help dissipate feelings of chaotic eating. And while this is absolutely true, I also want to take some time to acknowledge that feelings of out of control eating, eating until you’re uncomfortably full or being unable to stop eating despite feeling physically full are expected when you’re recovering from restriction and deprivation.
I never want you to feel like you’re somehow ‘failing’ because you’re still experiencing episodes of eating past the point of comfortable fullness – it’s actually your body showing you that it’s well programmed for survival. Our bodies evolved to ‘stock up’ on food when availability is scarce or inconsistent in order to have stored reserves during times of famine. Remember, our bodies don’t know the difference between self-imposed deprivation and famine, so it’s natural biological response when it begins to notice that intake is erratic, is to get as much in as possible when food is available.
That’s why honoring your hunger is so important when working towards a calm relationship with food, as doing so rebuilds the trust with your body that all the deprivation eroded. After so much time spent depriving and restricting, it takes time for it to learn to trust that it will consistently receive a wide variety of food (without compensatory behaviors), whenever it signals.
In addition, it’s incredibly common when one has been both physically and mentally restricting for some time, to feel uncomfortably full after almost every occurrence of eating enough. This will dissipate over time, as your body adjusts to being well fed and recovers from the trauma of deprivation.
All of this is to say, fullness is not the sign of failure diet culture makes it out to be and it’s also just not that important. It’s kind of a moving target and can be impacted by so many different things day to day, moment to moment. There’s really nothing wrong with eating to a point where you might feel some physical discomfort and it certainly doesn’t mean you’re ‘failing’ at intuitive eating. In fact, even the most seasoned of intuitive eaters will experience this if they’ve gone too long between meals or let themselves get too hungry, or simply feel the food is too good to stop. More often than not, that overly full feeling goes away fairly quickly. What causes the distress over that feeling is not as much the physical discomfort as the mental flagellation that comes along with it, a result of all the ingrained diet culture messaging around the evils of fullness.
The Bottom Line: It’s extremely hard to be in touch with your fullness cues when you’re still working through breaking free from the diet mindset, making peace with all foods and learning to honor your hunger. So if you find you’re still frequently eating to a point of physical discomfort, know that this is very common and there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with you for doing so. Restriction and deprivation is really traumatic for the body and these physical & mental wounds take time to heal. Over time, you will find the discomfort that comes along with feeding yourself enough dissipates and honoring your fullness will fall into place fairly easily. Be compassionate with yourself as you work through this and remember that fullness is not the big deal diet culture makes it out to be.
Note: This post does not apply to anyone with an active eating disorder. Eating disorders can severely interfere with hunger/fullness cues making them unreliable and thus worsening the eating disorder and overall health. If you are currently suffering from an eating disorder, I recommend working through the principles of intuitive eating with a trained IE therapist who specializes in eating disorder treatment. Find a list of counselors here.