In a previous blog post, I talked all about the importance of honoring your hunger. Now it’s time to discuss how to know when you are done eating, how much is enough, when are you satisfied, and what happens if you eat until you are over full or uncomfortable.
It’s time to talk all things fullness!
It’s important to note that if you have been dieting for some time, honoring your fullness may be a foreign idea to you. Most diets, meal plans, lifestyles etc, have rules that tell you how much you are supposed to eat. You have likely relied on external cues to tell you when it is time to stop eating, including things like calorie counts, pre-portioned meals, bars or shakes, or regimented diets with recommended portion sizes. Because of this you may be disconnected from your internal fullness cues.
This can often lead to the “clean plate” mentality where you tend to eat everything that is portioned no matter what the portion is because it has been “approved” or “allotted” on said diet or plan. Cleaning your plate can also be a pattern developed from childhood if well-meaning parents encouraged you to eat everything. Financial constraints and values systems that avoid waste can also contribute to the desire to eat everything that is available. I find that sometimes my clients aren’t even aware of the fact that they clean their plate, and that it is just an ingrained habit from years of dieting. Not eating regular meals/snacks or getting too hungry before a meal can lead to finishing everything on the plate. I like to think of it as a weighted pendulum, if you wait until you are starving to eat you will likely swing to the other side of being over full and uncomfortable after eating.
You will be unable to respect your fullness and stop eating if there is a voice in your head telling you that you “won’t be able to eat this food again”, “this is the last time”, or that you “shouldn’t be eating”. This is why it is important to be working on rejecting the diet mentality and making peace with food as you begin to try honoring your feelings of fullness.
If at this point you are feeling like you will never be able to understand fullness, there are several steps you can take to feel your fullness and then honor it.
Feeling your fullness is really one big giant experiment.
I love this outlook because it gives you the opportunity to play and figure out what works best for you. Knowing that you can’t “do it wrong”, “fail,” or “mess it all up.”
The first thing to do is try taking a time out during you meals to notice if you are enjoying how the food tastes and how hungry or full you are feeling. It may be helpful to plan intentional pauses 25%, 50% and 75% of the way through the meal until you are more used to naturally checking in. Note that this does not mean you have to stop eating, just notice and then continue eating. At the end of the meal, check in again to see where your fullness level is. This is where the experimenting comes in. If you think you are full but unsure, try stopping eating there. If you get hungry within the next 30min or hour you probably didn’t eat to a satisfying level of fullness, but that’s okay just honor your hunger at that point. Same thing is true if you are eating and don’t want to stop or aren’t sure if you are too full or not and then realize that you feel over full or uncomfortable, NO PROBLEM! Just allow yourself to wait until you are hungry again. In each of these examples you are learning about your fullness and what feels best for you.
It’s important to notice how different foods make you feel.
I love to use the example of the giant, plastic spinach containers that are packed full of greens – If I was really hungry and ate my way through a whole container I would be really full (and likely have some serious GI issues ;)) but I would probably only stay full for a short period of time because there really isn’t much in the way of macronutrients: carbs, proteins and fats. Getting to the same level of fullness on a balanced meal will last way longer and keep my energy and my mood stable.
Another point to note is that if you start eating when you are not hungry, it is harder to tell when you are comfortably full. You can overshoot your fullness because you don’t get the gradual filling you would if you were moderately hungry before eating.
As I mentioned the previous steps, notice if you became anxious at the idea of pausing during eating or leaving food behind. This fear may be coming from an old diet that encouraged you to leave ‘so many’ bites on the plate, or a fear that you may not be able to eat what you want if you tap in and notice your fullness. It is important to notice these fears and realize that with intuitive eating you are always allowed to eat more if you want to. In fact, it is common for my clients to start to realize their fullness but eat past it while they are still figuring it out and learning to trust themselves. As you continue to make peace with food and understand that you will always be able to eat what you want when you are hungry, it becomes easier to leave food behind when you are full.
Be ware of turning ‘stopping when you are full’ into another diet rule.
Eating until we are over full can be part of normal eating and not something to be judged or beat yourself up for.
If you feel you are unable to stop even once you work to feel your fullness or just don’t feel satisfied after eating but know you are full, you may be using food as a coping skill or not finding satisfaction in the types of food you are choosing! These are topics to be discussed in future blogs.
Disclaimer: For those struggling with eating disorders, you may need to eat past the point of comfortably full to re-nourish your body and normalize your portions. It is recommended that you get the support of a registered dietitian to learn more about the amount of food that is needed for your body vs trying to start off with intuitive eating or determine physical needs on your own.