If you haven’t already, I highly recommend reading the How to Honor Your Hunger post before reading this one.
Respecting your fullness is intuitive eating principle 5 of 10. It’s all about tuning in with your body while eating and listening to those signals that are saying “I’ve had enough to eat.” Honoring your hunger and respecting your fullness are different sides of the same coin. They both involve mindful eating and body trust. Regardless of your past or current eating habits, you can respect your fullness. It takes some practice but you can get there. A professional can help, especially if you find yourself compulsively overeating or suspect you may have binge eating disorder.
Tune In While You Eat
So many of us eat meals while watching television, watching a video on our phones, scrolling through social media or while on our emails. Think about it — when’s the last time you sat down at a table and did nothing other than eat (and perhaps talk with your dining partner)?
Full disclosure: I sometimes eat in front of screens. And I also make a point of sitting at my dining table without any screens (or even podcasts) and enjoying my meal. My partner works late a lot so oftentimes I’m doing this by myself. Rather than thinking of this as a lonely experience, I’m thankful I have the means to prepare a meal and thoroughly enjoy it.
So what does it look like to be mindful while eating? Ideally you’d tune in with your hunger before you start eating. You could think about where you are on the hunger/fullness scale. Then you’d begin eating, chewing each bite thoroughly, and savoring the flavor, scent and texture of your food. You will set down your utensils occasionally, perhaps take a sip of water. You’ll look at your food. And part way through eating, you’ll tune in with your body and think about where you are on the hunger/fullness scale. Are you still hungry? Are you getting full? Ideally we’d push away our plates at around a 7 out of 10 on the scale. This means you’re comfortably full but not overstuffed. You’re not uncomfortable and you’re no longer hungry or thinking about or interested in food. You’re satisfied.
Stop When You’re Full
What does fullness feel like to you? Absence of hunger, an expanded belly, no longer interested in food are all signs that you’re getting full. The key is to stop when you’re feeling pleasantly full and before you feel uncomfortably full.
You know you’re full but you want to keep eating. Now what? Ask yourself why that may be. Is it a food you don’t normally allow yourself to have? The major cause of overeating is restriction. Think about it: if you know you can have any food any time you want, what would drive you to overeat it?
If there is a particular food you shy away from because you think you’ll gorge yourself on it, it’s time to open up access to that food. It might seem counterintuitive but it’s just like telling a kid they can’t have or do something — then that’s all they want!
When you’re full but still have delicious food on your plate, save that food for later and remind yourself you can have it whenever you want. You are respecting your fullness. You’re preventing that feeling of discomfort. You’re doing what is best for your body right now. And you can eat whenever you want!
What if you’re afraid to eat to the point of fullness? This is common in people who have disordered eating. But going through life always hungry is no way to live. Irritability, brain fog, low energy and food preoccupation are no fun. It’s important to eat until you’re full to build that bidirectional body trust. You need to trust your body to tell you when, what and how much to eat and your body will trust you to feed it when, what and how much it needs.
Remember that hunger is your body telling you it needs nourishment. If you find yourself constantly hungry, I recommend getting familiar with the hunger/fullness scale. Some of my clients realize they are only eating to a 5 or scared to go past a 6. Are you always undereating? Are you restricting foods? Are you compulsively exercising? Is your body below its healthy weight? These are all things that can cause your body to throw you lots of hunger signals.
Accept that Overeating Happens
Holidays. Vacations. Emotional times. Food insecurity. Crazy schedules. Medications. There are many reasons we overeat and that’s totally normal. Remember that intuitive eating is not a hunger/fullness diet. Sometimes we undereat and sometimes we overeat. It’s a fact of life. It’s also normal to overeat a food if you’ve just given yourself unconditional permission to eat it. It’s an expected part of the food freedom process. Know that things will balance out in time.
If you find yourself feeling out of control with food and consistently eating very large amounts of food and/or to a very uncomfortable state, it’s time to see a professional.
You can be as prepared and mindful as physically possible and still find yourself in situations where you’re eating too little or too much. Cut yourself some slack. The important thing to remember is there is never a need to restrict after overeating. This just perpetuates that harmful diet/binge cycle. Remember to trust your body to tell you what it needs. You might find yourself naturally less hungry after a day of overeating. Or not. There is no right or wrong.