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Principle 5: Feel Your Fullness

I believe feeling your fullness can be a hard principle to explore, because fullness can feel different for each person. Maybe you experience fullness as the distension of your stomach, a reduction in your thoughts about food, or a relaxed mood. Or maybe you’re not entirely sure what fullness feels like in your body. Interestingly, we are all born with the ability to feel our fullness without any thought or effort. However, as we get older, we are exposed to various external factors that interfere with our ability to recognize our hunger and fullness cues. These factors include diet culture and food rules, being taught to finish everything on our plates as children, and eating an entire meal to avoid wasting food or seeming ungrateful. When we ignore our body’s cues for these and other reasons, we may be unable to recognize when we’re satiated, and end up eating far beyond the point of comfortable fullness.

Respecting your fullness, and thus being able to stop eating when your body is adequately fueled, is closely connected with Principle #3 of Intuitive Eating, Making Peace with Food. When you give yourself unconditional permission to eat, as discussed in Principle #3, you know that you can eat whenever you feel hungry. Many dieters have a hard time leaving food on their plate even if they are physically full, because they don’t know if and when they will allow themselves to eat that particular food (or any food) next. It is much easier to stop eating your favorite pasta dish once you reach comfortable fullness, if you know you can eat it again anytime.

So how do you recognize when you are comfortably full? The book Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach describes several ways the body can signal fullness, including feeling a completeness or psychological satisfaction, or contentedness of the stomach. It’s important to remember that these sensations vary from person to person. What I feel in my body might be different than what you feel. By gradually becoming more in tune with your body, you will recognize the sensations that signal to you when it’s time to eat or time to stop eating.

You can start by bringing more awareness to your eating experiences. Stop in the middle of a meal or snack and ask yourself questions such as “how does the food taste? What is the texture like?” Or “where is my fullness level? Am I eating because everyone is eating around me, or because I’m still physically hungry?” If you still feel hungry, continue eating until you feel satisfied. If you’ve reached comfortable fullness, honor it by putting down your fork. (And if you find that you’re physically full but feel like you can’t stop eating, you may be using food as a coping mechanism to help manage your emotions. This will be discussed in future posts.) After you finish eating, ask yourself what your fullness level is. Did you reach comfortable fullness? Did you exceed it? Remember, it will take time to regain your cues, and there will be fluctuations in your fullness levels depending on when and what you last ate, how physically active you’ve been, and other various factors.

You won’t have to be so conscious of your eating forever -- only when you are on your journey to becoming an intuitive eater. Eventually it will become second nature to let your internal cues guide your food intake!

Here are some tips to increase your mindfulness when eating, as described by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in Intuitive Eating:

  1. Eliminate distractions while eating. We all have busy schedules, whether it be due to work, school, or taking care of our families, so we often eat while doing other things. This takes away from our eating experience and our awareness of how much we’re eating, which can cause us to surpass comfortable fullness levels. Setting aside some time to eat calmly and without distractions can help you feel more connected to your body’s signals.

  2. Reinforce your decision to stop eating. Once you recognize you’re full and decide to stop eating, it’s helpful to perform a small action to make it feel more conscious, such as sliding your plate away from you or placing your napkin on top of the plate.

  3. Avoid eating out of obligation. This often entails learning to say “no, thank you” to unwanted foods and drinks in social settings. We all know those well-meaning people who push us to have more, even though we’re full. Remember, you know best what your body needs, and you are fully in control over your food and beverage intake.

Cheers to feeling your fullness and becoming more intuitive!

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