Intuitive Eating Principle 5: Learning To Feel Your Fullness
Learning about fullness and how it feels in your body is a crucial step towards becoming an intuitive eater.
If you’ve been a dieter, focusing on fullness might bring up uncomfortable feelings. Diets praise feeling hungry. Fullness – just the opposite – is often felt as a failure in diet culture. Some people even associate being full with an increase in weight
Are you wondering how to feel fullness when as it relates to food? Perhaps you might be wondering why it’s an important skill at all. Read on to learn more about how feeling the range of fullness in your body is such a key element in learning to trust your body and become an intuitive eater.
What is Fullness?
As we work on what fullness is when it comes to food and hunger, it’s important to identify just what fullness is.
Fullness is classically defined as a feeling of being filled to capacity; or completeness.
Most of us identify with fullness as being uncomfortable in our abdomen, like feelings of distention. However, just like with hunger, there is a range within fullness. At the beginning feelings of fullness, our stomach might just feel neutral, while at the other end we might feel severe physical discomfort like we are ill.
Every human has experienced this range of fullness over the course of their lifetime and that experience is completely normal.
How Dieting Affects Feeling Your Fullness
When you were a toddler, you likely ate when you were hungry and stopped when you were full (as long as your parents and caregivers gave you that autonomy). In most cases, when a child is full, there is no amount of bribing that can convince that child to eat more. However, as we get older, we start to hear and internalize messages about how fullness is bad.
Similarly, diets disconnect us from our bodies, and our ability to feel hunger and fullness is one of those areas.
With a diet, we are given a set amount of food to eat:
- If we are full halfway through the meal, we tend to continue eating because of the fear of not knowing how much our next meal might fill us up.
- On the other hand, if we are still hungry at the end of our diet meal, we are told to persevere through these feelings of hunger because the diet knows best.
In both of these examples, we are turning over our body’s ability to increase awareness over to a generic and bossy diet. And the more we let these external forces take over, the harder it is for us to connect with our bodies.
The good news: Learning to feel the different levels of fullness in your body helps you ditch dieting for good and build trust between you and your body.
Why is Feeling Fullness So Important?
Feeling our fullness and reflecting on the experience gives us the knowledge to move forward to find real freedom and joy with food.
As we continue to reflect on our body’s sensations with varying degrees of fullness, we can ask ourselves one of my favorite, non-judgmental questions:
“Would I choose to have this eating experience again?”
If we stopped eating while hungry, or ate to the point of discomfort, that answer is likely “no,” but if we found a place in the middle, that left us feeling nourished and pleasantly full, we will want to have that experience again.
I want to add one point here: if you are a chronic dieter, you’ve probably heard that you should never eat to fullness. I want to explain the nuance that sets Intuitive Eating apart with fullness. In Intuitive Eating, you are the expert of your body.You know what feels good and what feels less than good. No professional, myself included, knows your body better than you.
It is 100% normal to occasionally eat past fullness and it’s a part of the human experience. It doesn’t make you ‘bad’ or ‘weak.’ When we take the time to reflect on our experience with curiosity and non-judgment, we can truly learn how to nurture ourselves.
Why do I continue to eat past my feelings of fullness?
I hear this question so frequently so I’d like to briefly answer it here. So many of us have lots of emotional baggage from dieting, where we have guilt and shame about eating past fullness. As I mentioned above, it is a part of the human experience.
However, when we find ourselves eating past fullness more often then not, it’s often good practice to get curious (not judgmental!) about the reasons.
Here are a few reasons why people eat past their feelings of fullness:
- Distractions: Most of us are so busy, and sitting down to eat seems like an indulgence we just DON’T have the time for! But, when we multi-task while we eat, we can miss the subtle cues that we are getting full, and then before we know it, we are feeling pretty uncomfortable!
- Soothing: For many of us, food is a reliable friend: When our boss is demanding, our spouse is absent, and/or our children keep us running in circles, we need some nurturing. And because, it’s quick, available and doesn’t talk back to us, food is often where we turn first.
- Not feeling satisfied: While I’ll dig much deeper into satisfaction in a later post, the issue is that we want and need to feel satisfied after we eat. But, all too often, we do things to thwart our satisfaction, like choosing foods we feel like we ‘should’ eat, only to eat the thing we really want afterwards.
Hello apple > carrots > ……. > cookie!
So How Do I Start Feeling My Fullness?
- Get Out Your Fullness Scale. If you have already read my post on Honoring Your Hunger, you’ll remember the Hunger/Fullness scale. On one end (1), we have severe hunger and on the other end (10), we have fullness to the point of feeling physically ill.
1 5 10
very hungry neutral physically ill
- While you are eating, do a brief body scan every 5 minutes or so to see where you think you are. For many people, a level 7 will be a good level for meals, especially if they will not eat again for 3 to 4 hours. Perhaps if they are eating a snack, they might find a different level more helpful. The important thing to remember is that different things work for different bodies.
- Notice how long feelings of fullness persist. You’ll probably start to notice that your hunger and fullness are like a wave.
- Explore any negative feelings that arise.
- Ask yourself: “would I choose to have this eating experience again?” No matter what the answer is, be curious about your answer, as this will help you tune into your body and discover what it needs.
The more you do this exercise, the more benefits you will get. It’s ok to start slow, perhaps just a few times a week, and then increase as you feel more comfortable with it.
What’s the end goal?
With practice and reflection, you will find that you will most often have eating experiences that you want to have again, which is a way of treating our bodies in a way that shows them respect and self-care. Isn’t that something we all want more of in our lives?
Well, there you have it!
If you start putting these steps into place, you’ll start noticing subtle fullness cues, and feeling more in tune with what your body wants and needs! This increased awareness, in turn, helps you get more joy and satisfaction out of your eating experiences. Are you in???
Perhaps, you’re familiar with Intuitive Eating and have been trying to work on the principles on your own, but you’re feeling like you want some help as you work through this journey.
My clients get in-person one-on-one sessions and real-time messaging to support them along the way. If you feel like you want to get some extra help, contact me to schedule your complimentary discovery call.
It’s a no pressure way for us to learn a bit more about each other to help determine if I would be the ideal person to help you make your transformation into an intuitive eater.
If you’re interested in learning more about Intuitive Eating, I have a series of blog posts devoted to this very topic.
Click on the links below to get started.
Kelly Abramson MS, RD is a dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor who works with clients in Alexandria, VA and virtually via telehealth. She guides women as they break free from dieting to find joy in food and their bodies. Kelly blogs regularly at NpowerYou.com and has created a free e-book for download, “7 Steps to Overcome Stress Eating.”