the sixth 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 feeling your fullness, the fifth principle of Tribole and Resch’s Intuitive Eating program and marks the halfway point of the IE principles!
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
- 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 what what the Food Police are and how to work to overcome their detrimental messages.
And you can always find all the posts I publish in this series right here should you wish to revisit one at any point.
We’ve discussed honoring your hunger, so now it’s time to talk about the other half of that, feeling your fullness. Seems easy, but just as with honoring your hunger, for many chronic dieters, or those following restrictive eating plans for some time, actually being able to feel your fullness may be a pretty tough thing to do.
Dieting instills a license to eat only at mealtime—when it is “legal.”…other plans offer small portions at meals. This, too, encourages you to eat while you can.Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works
This type of mentality tends to make it difficult for us to truly evaluate our fullness level because we’re so worried about not being able to eat until the next “permitted” time, that often we blow right past what our bodies are saying and finish every last crumb (even if it’s not that enjoyable!).
That said, diets aren’t the only reason we may be compelled to ignore our internal signals. There are a number of other factors that can lead to eating past the point of comfortable fullness. Some examples are:
- Having been brought up to “clean your plate”
- Not wanting to waste any food
- Not eating until you’ve gotten to a ravenous state
- The idea that once you open a package, or start an item (such as a doughnut), we need to eat the whole thing
Even if you don’t clean your plate, it’s possible to be eating past the point of comfortable fullness and it all has to do with ignoring those internal cues and relying more on external factors.
In their book, Tribole and Resch state that the key to respecting your fullness is to give yourself unconditional permission to eat anything. I couldn’t agree more with this and found it was so true for me personally when I was trying to re-learn how to eat intuitively. As we’ve talked about in past posts, the minute you put rules into place about what you can and can’t do, all you’re going to want to do is break them. It’s much easier to respect your internal cues when you know you can eat more of that food (or something else!) later if you feel hungry again.
It should be noted however, this principle is not about encouraging you to leave food on your plate. You may find you clean your plate and get a second helping before you’ve reached your level of comfortable fullness. The point is not to leave food behind, but rather be attune to your internal signals.
That said, as we discussed above, feeling your fullness may sound elementary but can often be a really hard thing to identify when you’ve relied on external signals for a while. Unfortunately, knowing what comfortable fullness feels like is something only you know. Others can describe what it feels like to them, but it’s different for everyone. It takes time to learn to identify it and is something you’ll refine over many meals and snacks.
Here are a few things that can help:
- Eat slowly
- Try to eat without distraction whenever possible
- Evaluate how you’re feeling at the beginning, middle and end of a meal. Even if you eat past the point of fullness, it’s a helpful step in identifying what that feels like so you can stop before you get to that point next time.
Something Tribole and Resch make note of in their book, which I think is a really important point, is that your fullness level will vary greatly meal to meal, day to day, week to week, etc. The same amount of food is not always going to work the same way. There are so many factors that play into how much you might eat from one meal or snack to another. People tend to get really nervous when they find themselves more hungry one a particular day or for a particular meal, but that’s actually quite normal.
Here are a few factors that play into your fullness level:
- The composition of your meal – if you’re eating foods with protein, fiber and fat (i.e. salmon with farro and asparagus), you’re likely going to feel your fullness before a meal composed of refined carbohydrates (i.e. a plate of pasta). Foods containing fat, fiber and protein are slower to digest than quick-burning carbohydrates so not only may you find they fill you up faster, but they will likely also keep your fuller for longer.
- The length of time between eating – if it has been a while since your last meal or snack, you’re likely going to require more food to reach that fullness level than if you ate shortly before that particular meal.
- Your activity level – you may find that on days you’re more active, you feel hungrier than days when you’re less active. Or you may find you’re more hungry the day after you’ve been particularly active.
- Distractions – if you’re busy doing something else while you’re eating, or if you’re out with your friends, you may find it takes longer to feel your fullness.
With so many variables that exert influence on your eating, it should be no surprise, then, that the amount of food you desire to eat can and will fluctuate. A big key is to stay tuned in and to eat consciously.Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works
While you’re trying to uncover the Intuitive Eater inside you, it’s important to pay attention to everything your body is telling you. It may seem exhausting to have to focus so much on food choices, meal times and internal signals, but ultimately, once you get in tune with them, you won’t have to have this hyper-focus. Be patient and realize that, when learning any skill, it takes some time and careful attention, but once you’ve mastered it, it becomes much less time consuming.