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Feel Your Fullness

Hands up if you’re worried about the discomfort of overeating… Feeling full can bring up a lot of negative feelings, and not just because of the physical discomfort. Chronic dieting, eating disorders, and food rules like “you must clean your plate”, have left a lot of guilt, shame, and even fear of fullness while also disrupting the messages from your body that help you interpret the signals your brain receives in regards to feeling hungry and full. 

Feeling your fullness is the fifth principle of Intuitive Eating. If you have not yet read about principles one through four, please check them out! To honor your fullness, in order to fully immerse yourself in this stage of Intuitive Eating, you would be best informed by checking out how to reject the diet mentality, honor your hunger, make peace with food, and fight the food police. You must do the work, trust that you will give yourself the desired foods, and listen to your body’s signals. When you break the cycle of guilt around food, you can start to eat more freely, and develop the ability to listen to your body…which will likely lead to you learning when to stop eating during a meal - not because diet culture told you to, but because your body said, ‘I'm done’. 

There is nothing wrong with feeling full when you want to, and to trust yourself, you must learn to listen to those signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. You can do this by eating mindfully and learning to look for the signs that show that you’re comfortably full. I know, easier said than done - but we’re going to dig into that today.

Learning to feel your fullness requires that you deal with automatic and mindless behaviors around eating, as well as the negative emotions you might be holding onto. In this post, I will help you identify the physical sensations of hunger and how to eat more mindfully, but of course, this is a lifelong journey, and if you need any help or support around intuitive eating, please reach out. I am always here to support you. 

Connecting with the physical sensations you get from fullness

In the second principle, we talked about honoring your hunger, which means learning to listen to the signals that your body is sending you, trusting that your body is hungry, and giving it what it needs. When you are dieting or you have disordered eating habits, you are often ignoring these signs from your body. By doing this, you can change the chemistry of your brain. After a while, you will get fewer of these signals saying that you are hungry until suddenly you are ravenous. This is what we talk about in the intuitive eating world when we say that dieting leads to a loss of connection with your body.

Ignoring your hunger signals can also alter the part of your brain that signals you to say you are full. When you finally eat after feeling extreme hunger, you are likely to eat quickly, without paying attention to how much you are taking in, overeating on more food than your stomach can comfortably hold. This leaves you suddenly feeling overfull and uncomfortable. This cycles into feeling bad and guilty for overeating, restricting until you can’t anymore, and doing the whole process over again. Hello again, diet cycle!

To break the cycle, we must become more mindful while eating. For an easy guide, we can reference the hunger/fullness scale. 

The goal is to stay in the mid-range, eating when we start to feel the signals, before we get ravenous and irritable or anxious, and to stop when we feel comfortable and satisfied. This takes practice! The hunger-fullness scale is NOT a rule or a tool for judgment, it is a tool to help you become more in tune with the variety of hunger and fullness sensations that exist. If you get to a 0 or 1, you’re not a bad person, same to be said with getting to a 9 or a 10! Be careful about judgment with hunger/fullness - this is part of the reason why making peace with food and challenging the food police are important principles to consider before diving head first into fullness.

Eating Mindfully

It is important to learn how to eat more mindfully to avoid these uncomfortable, overly full feelings, or at least know when you’re heading there. Intuitive eating and Mindful Eating are often confused with each other, but really, mindful eating is a part of intuitive eating. It is the part we put into practice while actively consuming the foods we have intuitively chosen for ourselves. Intuitive Eating however, encompasses so much more than just mindful eating.

To eat mindfully, you need to avoid distractions while you eat so that you can focus on how you are feeling while you are consuming your food. Distracted eating tends to lead to dissatisfaction with our food and overeating. When you are not paying attention to the food you’re eating, it can delay sensations of fullness, and when you finally bring awareness to how you feel, you’ve likely already overeat. Interestingly enough, a significant portion of the satisfaction that we feel after eating actually comes from looking at and paying attention to our meal (more on satisfaction in 2 weeks!).

When you are eating, to get the most out of the experience and ensure that you are not consuming more than your stomach wants, think about how you want to feel physically after eating a meal or snack. Identifying nuances of fullness can help you get more in touch with your body. Here are a few feelings that you can look for:

Stomach: When you have eaten enough, your stomach may feel different. Your belt might feel a little tighter as your belly distends and bloats. 

Head/Mind: You might feel more clear-headed, as you have fewer thoughts about food and eating, and your desire to eat is diminished.

Mood: We can all get a little hangry at times, and when you do, you will notice that as you eat, your mood improves. You feel more pleasant or relaxed and probably a little nicer to others. 

Energy: Hunger can leave you tired and sluggish, so you might notice a boost in your energy after eating a small meal. Sometimes you might get a relaxed and content feeling after a larger satisfying meal

Factors that influence fullness

As we are talking about recognizing the signs of fullness it is important to note that eating the food is not the only factor in how full you might feel. There are a few things that will change the way you feel about the amount that you have eaten. Every day might be different which is why it is important to keep checking in with yourself often as you are healing your relationship with food. How you felt today after a meal may not be the same as how you will feel tomorrow after the same meal - flexibility is a must in the intuitive eating process!

Factors such as your initial hunger level, the time of day, time between your last meal and this one, activity between meals, the types of food you eat, and your mood can all affect your feelings of fullness. Unless your environment, eating schedule, movement, and mood are precisely the same every day (which is unlikely), you will almost definitely need to eat different amounts. 

Your mentality and that of those around you can also have an impact, which is why it is so vital that you are doing this work. When you give yourself unconditional permission to eat, you eliminate the scarcity mindset that can develop when constantly restricting. You will not feel that same urgency to eat while you can. You will also be eating more mindfully, which will let you be less concerned about the opinions of those around you. 

These factors are things that I dive into in my one on one coaching sessions with my clients, as well as creating a pleasant eating environment. Along with using the hunger-fullness scale, fullness doesn’t seem so much of a big deal or a thing to be scared of anymore! 

This is possible for you too inside my 1:1 Intuitive Eating and Body Image Coaching Program. Inside my coaching I empower my clients, just like you, to take Intuitive Eating beyond the kitchen so that you can unlock the ability to stop second guessing every meal, discover self compassion, and finally begin to feel at home in your body.

When the feeling of guilt comes up after overeating, when you are experiencing negative self-talk every time you step in front of the mirror, or when you are faced with the temptation of starting a new diet every monday, my program is unique because it is founded on support and accountability. You will have me there with you every step of the way. I understand you because I was you.

If you are curious about implementing this in your life, I invite you to join me. Your first step starts with filling out an application so we can chat and figure out if my coaching is the best fit for you.

Challenging the status quo

Somehow, with all the food rules about not eating… There is also a cultural expectation for us to eat. Food can become the focus of many family, social, and cultural events. It’s customary in many cultures to feed guests until they are nearly bursting, refusing to take no for an answer. This leaves us trying to be more mindful in an awkward position. 

On top of that, we have the “Clean your Plate” mentality that many of us grew up with.  I know I was told that I have to eat everything I have taken because we can’t be wasteful, and ‘someone worked hard to cook that food’, and ‘there are starving kids in Africa’. This instills a belief early on in life that how we are feeling doesn’t matter and that we must make ourselves uncomfortable in order to appease others. 

I won't sit here and lie to you, telling you this part is going to be easy, but you have the right to set boundaries around food and your body, it is YOUR body after all! Unfortunately, I have no recipe against the disappointment in grandma’s eyes when you don't take the third helping… just stay strong. 

Tips to Take Control and Feel Your Fullness 

Remember that ‘No’ is a full sentence - Others might not accept it, but they don’t have to. When you say no, stay firm. You can give reasons, but you do not have to. I like to make it known that it will be a no before the offer is ever made. When you announce that you are full and satisfied (throw in a compliment to the chef), others are less likely to try and pressure you to eat more. Feeling like this is a hard step for you? Let's chat!

Disrupt the automatic Habits - We eat every day, many times a day, and it can become very automatic. This disconnects us from the messages our brain is trying to send. Disrupt the patterns by switching up the routine. Eat with your non-dominant hand to create more awareness of what you are doing. Intentionally leave some bits on your plate to break the clean our plate pull. Get up and go to the bathroom mid-meal to give yourself a moment to assess your hunger. Find ways to incorporate mindful eating practices into your day.

Create an optimal eating environment - Make mealtimes more special by creating an atmosphere that gives you comfort and peace. Sit down somewhere comfortable (preferably with a table). Have a designated meal spot, and take time to set your place. Put away the electronics and other distractions. Set the mood, play music, light a candle, or put flowers on the table to create ambiance. Set a boundary that mealtimes are not a time for arguments or disagreements.

Reflect on how you feel after eating - When you finish eating, reflect on how you feel physically and check in with sensations of fullness. How would you feel if you stopped eating a few bites sooner? Do you want or need more? When eating, once you feel sensations of fullness start to arise, be more mindful of the subsequent few bites, notice how food feels and tastes, and how your body feels after each bite. This is called the Last bite threshold; this practice helps identify the endpoint of eating. It takes practice and patience!!

Understand what your food is doing for you - A basic understanding of what the different types of food you eat can do for your body and how that food leaves you feeling will help you make better decisions. If you need foods that will increase your fullness, you want proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and fiber. If you are looking for a quick boost in energy, look for fruits and carbohydrate foods. If you want to stay full for longer, avoid choosing just veggies, air foods (rice cakes, puffed cereal), artificially sweetened foods, and low-carbohydrate foods. I’m not saying any of these are good or bad; it’s just that they will affect your fullness level differently. Remember, nutrition needs are likely to change day by day. 

Healing your relationship with food is a long journey, and one that's not usually a straight line, but with every step you take, you are closer to feeling free, happy, and full. This might be a new and scary sensation, but as you do the work, you will learn that you can trust your body. Get to know the signals your body sends before, during, and after your meal, and you can eat without stress and guilt. Most importantly, you need to know that it is ok to overeat sometimes - it happens to ALL of us. It does not make you a bad person. Also, remember that the amount of food you eat daily will fluctuate depending on environmental and physical factors. Treat yourself with kindness and understanding, and take it one day at a time. 

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