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.
Eat What You Want
Have you ever tried to ignore a specific craving and eaten other foods instead? And then you keep eating and eating because you’re not feeling satisfied and before you know it you’re stuffed full of foods you didn’t actually want in the first place?
This is one reason why we might find ourselves in that unpleasant range of overfullness. Part of intuitive eating is giving ourselves unconditional permission to enjoy all foods. This means we honor our cravings as well as our physical hunger.
Pay attention to what happens when you eat the full-fat ice cream versus the diet ice cream. Or when you eat the cookie instead of the apple. Or when you eat the regular crust pizza instead of the low-carb tortilla. Do you find yourself feeling satisfied before you hit that uncomfortable point of fullness?
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 a particular food — then that’s all they want! If this feels really scary, consider working one-on-one with an intuitive eating dietitian. We guide our clients through this process all the time.
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. Mindful eating doesn’t always have to look like time at the table. And, regularly eating without distractions can be helpful when you’re starting to build up mindful eating skills.
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’ll look at your food regularly, you’ll set down your utensils/food occasionally, and perhaps take a sip of water. And part way through eating, you can check back in with where you are on the hunger/fullness scale. Are you still hungry? Are you getting full? Ideally we’d wind down 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.
Getting here can take quite a bit of practice, so don’t be hard on yourself if you feel like you’re all over the hunger/fullness scale at first! This is really common if you’ve been dieting or restricting for any period of time. Remember: each time you sit down to eat is a learning experience.
Stop When You’re Full
What does fullness feel like to you? Absence of hunger, an expanded belly, and no longer feeling 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 eating past comfortable fullness is restriction. Think about it: if you know you can have any food any time you want, what would drive you to overeat it?
The key is to not make rules around when you have to stop eating. If you do this, it can feel like restriction and the entire process is thwarted.
When you’re full but still have delicious food on your plate, consider saving that food for later and reminding yourself that 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 comfortably full to build body trust (i.e. eating to a 7 on the scale rather than a 5 or 6). Your body needs to 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. Are you frequently undereating? Are you restricting foods? Are you compulsively exercising? Are you trying to keep your body at a certain weight? These are all things that can cause your body to throw you lots of hunger signals and make it feel difficult to honor your fullness.
Accept that Overeating Happens
Holidays. Vacations. Emotional times. Food insecurity. Chaotic 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!
You can be as prepared and mindful as 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. Doing so 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.
If you find yourself feeling out of control with food, it’s time to see a professional.