the seventh part of my deep dive into intuitive eating covering what it is, how to begin to put it into practice and my take on it as a registered dietitian.
Today’s post is all about discovering the satisfaction factor, the sixth principle of Tribole and Resch’s Intuitive Eating program.
If you missed previous posts in this series, you can catch up now:
- Intuitive Eating: What Is It? – a basic overview of what the Intuitive Eating program is
- Intuitive Eating: Reject the Diet Mentality (Principle #1) – a discussion of the first principle within the Intuitive Eating program and the very first step that needs to be taken in order to start your IE journey.
- Intuitive Eating: Honoring Your Hunger (Principle #2) – a conversation about the importances of listening to your body and the very real biological responses that occur when we don’t
- Intuitive Eating: Making Peace with Food (Principle #3) – discussing how to embrace this very critical step of the IE process and why it can be scary to do so
- Intuitive Eating: Challenging the Food Police (Principle #4) – covering everything from what the Food Police are and how to work on overcoming their detrimental messages.
- Intuitive Eating: Feel Your Fullness (Principle #5) – discussing ways in which we ignore our internal signals (like fullness) and ways to get back in touch with them.
And you can always find all the posts I publish in this series right here should you wish to revisit one at any point.
Pinpointing your satisfaction factor seems like an easy thing to do, right? Taking a vacation, lounging by the pool, spending time with friends and loved ones, etc. But for chronic dieters and those who have restricted intake, pinpointing their satisfaction factor with food can be extrememly difficult. The longer you’ve spent on and off certain diets or restrictive eating plans, the harder is can be to even know what you truly enjoy.
When so many years are spent eating just what you “should,” it can be hard to remember what you want.
The Japanese have the wisdom to promote pleasure as one of their goals of healthy living. In our fury to be thin and healthy, we often overlook one of the most basic gifts of existence—the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in the eating experience.Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works
I love this quote from the Intuitive Eating book because it’s so unbelievably true. Very rarely have I counseled individuals or have I spoken with people who have been concerned with the enjoyment of eating. Rather the concerns were grams of fat, carbohydrates, overall calories, macronutrient profile whether our ancestors ate it, etc. In our diet-obsessed society, eating for pleasure or enjoyment is looked down upon, a transgression against what we SHOULD be eating.
As Tribole and Resch put it in their book, so many see “food as the enemy and the eating experience as the battleground between ‘tempting’ foods and the willpower to avoid them.”
But can I tell you something?
When you eat what you want, what you truly want (determining this may take some trial and error…more on that later) in a pleasurable environment (which is different for everyone!), your satisfaction factor goes way up. When your satisfaction factor is high, it’s much easier to listen to your internal cues and you’ll likely find that less food is required for you to feel full.
When you really want a gooey, fresh-baked giant chocolate chip cookie and instead you try to choose the “right” thing and eat a rice cake with peanut butter, you’re likely going to be disappointed (& therefore dissatisfied).
That dissatisfaction often leads to a never-ending journey of eating through your “approved” snack choices (another rice cake with peanut butter, a piece of fruit, another rice cake with peanut butter, some air-popped popcorn, another piece of fruit, etc.) where you end up consuming way more than you would have if you had just eaten the one chocolate chip cookie in the first place.
People often request “healthy versions of dessert” from me. And while I love experimenting with adding extra nutrients into my favorite recipes, most of the time if I want dessert, I just eat dessert. An ooey, gooey chocolate chip cookie made with butter and lots of sugar. And you know what? Because that’s what I really want, eating just one (or sometimes even just a couple bites of one!) satisfies me and I can move on.
There have been plenty of times where I’ve had a craving for something really specific but we didn’t have it in the house. And I end up nibbling through half our pantry as I try to find a substitute for that one thing!
I hear a lot of “I can’t control myself around that food so I don’t keep it in the house.” We’ve discussed what deprivation can do to cravings – allowing yourself to enjoy the foods you love (free from guilt!) often means that it takes less of that food to satisfy you.
…letting yourself enjoy food will actually result in self-limiting, rather than out-of-control eating…[w]hen you allow yourself pleasure and satisfaction from every possible eating experience, your total quantity of food will decrease.Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works
So how, exactly, do you discover your satisfaction factor if you’ve been denying it for a while?
Tribole and Resch lay out 5 steps in their book to help you. Below, I’ve pulled out a few points that I think are really useful:
1. Ask yourself what you really want to eat
Like we discussed above, eating what you really want often leads to greater satisfaction and makes it much easier to listen to your internal cues. But if you’ve denied yourself your true cravings for a while, it can be hard to determine what you actually like. If you feel that way, spend some time trying out different foods and rate your experience with them. You may find you like many more foods than you ever knew or you may find you like less! Either way, determining what foods you actually like is an important first step in discovering your satisfaction factor. There’s a great case study in Tribole and Resch’s book about a woman named Jennifer, if you’ve gotten yourself a copy, I highly recommend reading her story if you struggle with this step.
2. Take time to evaluate as you eat
We’ve talked about the importance of taking a time-out during your meal to evaluate how it feels before, and it absolutely applies when trying to find your satisfaction factor. To honor your satisfaction factor, it’s important that you’re not eating simply because the food is there, but because you’re truly enjoying it. If you eat just because it’s there or because it’s what you think you should be eating, you’re likely going to be searching for something more later on.
3. Make your eating experience more enjoyable
In an ideal world, we would be able to sit down without distraction and pay attention to every bite we’re taking in order to evaluate the satisfaction we’re deriving. I understand that this isn’t always possible, but as often as you are able, try to do this, especially in the beginning as you’re re-learning what you enjoy. I definitely find I’m much more satisfied after a meal when I’ve been able to sit in peace and savor each delicious bite versus when I’m quickly shoving it down standing at the kitchen counter! When I was first re-learning to be an intuitive eater, I made a point to make as many as my meals as possible special. I would light candles, put out a placemat, plate it in a pleasing way, etc. – even if it was just me, myself and I eating! It made a big difference for me.
4. Avoiding getting to the over-hungry state
When we’re ravenous, it’s very hard to be in touch with any internal signals. When things get crazy in our house and I don’t have time to make myself a meal until long after I was hungry, I find it takes much more food for me to feel satisfied. Not only do I eat more when I’m over-hungry, I also find I barely even get to taste and experience my food so I’m often left looking for something else not long after. I try as much as possible to eat a little something if I feel like things are getting crazy and I’m not going to be getting my meal until later. Even if it’s just a few bites of a belVita bar or a couple raisins and almonds, just something to take the edge off my hunger so that I can fully enjoy my next meal.
5. Provide variety
Eating a large variety of foods not only makes sense from a nutritional standpoint (you’re covering many more nutrients that way!) but it also allows you to keep your tastebuds active. It can be easy to eat the same thing day in and day out, but chances are that you derive less and less satisfaction from those items as time goes on. Work to mix it up as much as makes sense within your budget and your time limits. Even just switching up the type of fruit you eat week to week or flavor of yogurt can help!
Many of our clients take pride in keeping empty refrigerators and barren cupboards. They believe that if certain foods aren’t around, they’ll be less tempted to overeat. The reality is that a lack of appealing food choices creates a sense of deprivation and promotes a creative food-foraging experience that never seems to produce a satisfying result.Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works
6. Don’t be afraid to walk away
When you’re constantly dieting or restricting your intake, it can be tempting to continue eating past the point of satisfaction when you’re eating something you enjoy (either because you feel guilty for eating it or make yourself promises not to eat it again). With Intuitive Eating, that food item will always be there. You can take a break, walk away and return to eating it later if you feel the desire to. You’re not limited to certain amounts, times, foods. You can eat whatever you want, whenever you want. Knowing that, it’s often easier to stop eating once your satisfaction factor plummets.
Rediscovering what you enjoy eating can be a process. The longer you have dieted or restricted, the longer this step may take. As always, be kind to yourself and patient with the process. It is not going to happen overnight, progress will most likely not be linear and certainly not always easy. There will be some steps in the IE process that you love but there will be others that are a struggle. If you stick with it and work through the setbacks, you will ultimately build a more positive relationship with food that will last a lifetime.