Now I have reached Principle 6, ´Feel your Fullness´ in my Intuitive Eating journey and a natural follow-on from ´Discover the Satisfaction Factor´ or Principle 5. Yet again we are invited to tune into our bodies to listen to to what degree we are full at various points during our meals and how much we are enjoying what we are eating.
Again, sounds simple!
However, being a serial dieter can leave us to being accustomed to finishing all that is on our plate regardless of our fullness level (as is the norm according to the Intuitive Eating book). I can concur. Whether we we encouraged to clearing our plate as a child or are just used to doing it as adults, dieting can also make us feel like we have to finish what we have as we are only ´allowed´ to eat at mealtimes and don´t know when we will be ´allowed´ to eat next.
There are a million and one reasons why we might feel we have to finish all our food. Personally speaking I know I hate to waste food having very much grown up with knowing that they are many starving people in this world. It has become a relatively unconscious habit as an adult, particularly if I am out or at friends to either not waste or to not appear rude by not eating all I have been given, but most of the time I just eat what is there regardless.
Permission – the key to success
The success of feeling and acting on our fullness is intrinsically linked to giving ourselves unconditional permission to eat. If we know that we can eat whenever and whatever we want then we are a lot less likely to feel that we have to eat everything on our plate as we know we can eat again whenever we wish. This is a critical part of success and makes total sense, but again is something we have to evolve into as it is not just a case of flicking a switch.
Feeling our fullness
The other key part is feeling our fullness level and knowing when we are comfortably full without still being quite hungry or overfull. This requires some level of being in touch with our body which we may have disconnected from due to dieting or a myriad of other reasons through the course of our life. That said, we can still start to tune into the signals which may feel like:
- Feeling satisfied
- Noticing we feel warm in our stomach
- A sense of pleasant completeness or fullness
It can be different for everyone, but with listening and practice we can start to tune into our own individual body´s signals.
Respect our fullness
The next part requires yet more awareness and presence but also some conscious decision making. If we are eating a meal and notice we are at pleasant fullness we can decide whether we stop even though there are some mouthfuls left or whether to continue. Continuing on auto-pilot can be our default, I know it is often mine. If we stop and tune in a few times during the meal we can assess whether we want or need more – a conscious awareness check-in as IE calls it. This is when we neutrally investigate how full we are, how much we are enjoying the meal and then decide whether to continue or stop. During this we may discover that we have had enough, just need a few more bites to be near to fullness (and once we have decided this that we wish to stick to it!) or that we would like to finish it all. There is no requirement to do any of the above or to leave anything, just to bring curious awareness how we feel during any particular meal or snack.
This will certainly put an end to mindless eating whether it is a full-blown 3 course meal, a bar of chocolate or a bag of crisps. We often can get to the end of whatever we are eating without fully savouring each mouthful, appreciating it and feeling our level of fullness too.
Increasing awareness and acting upon it!
Much as we may like to pretend that we can multi-task our minds can only really be aware of one thing at a time – this is also the case for eating.
The recommendation is to eat without distraction whether it is work, home or wherever the more we can be fully present to our food and not do something at the same time, the more we will be present for our food and feel our level of satiety. I know this doesn´t sound like much fun and eating alone without doing anything at the same time is soooooooooooooo hard for me, but I also get that it is at the forefront of tuning into our bodies and eating mindfully. Hopefully over time this awareness and presence will be easier and allow for a certain level of multi-tasking so I can at least read a book whilst eating!
Ending the meal consciously is also highly recommended by the book. Making the decision to stop eating at the next bite or in a few bites and then sticking to it can be enough, but is usually more final if we accompany it with moving our plate away or putting a napkin on top to stop additional munching (which I do all the time!) I have heard of some people covering their food in salt or sugar to stop themselves eating more which sounds a bit excessive and a waste of food to me. I think making some kind of act after the last bite is a particularly handy tip when eating with children who can take an eternity to finish their meal. I sometimes find I have eaten all on my plate and then can start nibbling at theirs too due to just finding it harder to sit there and wait without doing something.
We can need not worry about wasting food as we can always pack away leftovers whether at a restaurant or at home.
When we are out, particularly with friends it can feel more challenging to not clear our plate so as not to offend or if we find it hard to say no to another helping or spoonful. But at the end of the day, we are in charge of our bodies and how much we eat and drink and only we know how we feel. I think this could be a very useful thing to bear in mind as Christmas approaches!
What makes us full?
Our fullness or satiety can vary from one day to the next or one meal to the next. Just because we ate a meal a couple of hours ago can still mean we are hungry now. However, with listening and a bit of knowledge about what can affects our satiety levels we can continue building our trust with our bodies which will all aid us on our Intuitive Eating journey.
Fullness factors can be influenced by:
- When we last ate. Studies have shown that the more often we eat the less hungry we are. Having various mini-meals throughout the day can keep us satieted and can mean we eat less than having 3 bigger meals each day. Our bodies also find it easier to metabolise our food this way. That said, we shouldn´t just do this to reduce calories, but only if we truly feel that we are hungry and want to eat this way.
- What kind of food we eat – a mixture of fibre, protein, carbs, nutrients and fat make an effect on our level of fullness, particularly protein according to studies.
- Amount of food in our stomachs still – if are stomachs are empty we are more likely to eat more
- Hunger level – if we start a meal famished then we are more likely to eat more
- Social influence – we are more likely to eat more in groups as we are less present (and less likely to listen to our bodies), social eating also extends how long we eat, we may feel a sense of peer pressure to finish our food, all be eating at the same time or we may eat less less due to fear of judgement.
Choosing what we eat
When we are hungry we have a choice of what to eat if we have really made peace with food. We do need to make sure that we don´t use the information above though just to create another sneaky diet or way to restrict food.
If we are very hungry then eating a meal or snack like a salad with chicken, a roll and dressing or fruit with cheese, crackers and a yogurt will make us feel fuller for longer. Both of these examples are a combination of complex carbs, protein, fats and nutrients which are far more likely to satiate us than just a plain salad or a piece of fruit. If we ate what is termed ´air food´ instead – like rice crackers or celery sticks we are not going to be satisfied and probably reach for more food or a bigger meal later on.
All of the above help us to think about what, when and how much we eat to truly respect our bodies and our own individual needs. There is certainly not one size fits all which is what we often feel we ´should´ eat or do.
There is a caveat to this if people don´t feel that they can stop eating. This can be due to using food as a coping mechanism as a result of trauma or food insecurity, for example. It is suggested that people who feel challenged by this work with a specialist trained with eating disorders.
Principle 5 ends with another handy exercise to check in with ourselves after a meal or snack to see how full we are and the quality of the fullness e.g. pleasant, unpleasant and full, plus note what we have eaten. Tracking this for several days will not only help to tune into my fullness level, but also start to see what food is making me full most satieted or satisfied depending on my level of hunger.
Looking forward to seeing how I progress on this one as I can sometimes find it hard to feel my fullness, mainly due to habit of finishing everything in front of me. Also going to be eating out a lot abroad in the coming week, I already know it will be a challenge to not clear my plate plus I will have the desire to try everything available! Watch this space.
How about you, how easy do you find it to feel your fullness? Do you easily act on it? What foods make you feel most satieted? Do you find you eat more if you are out with friends, if so, why? Do you serve meals up at home yourselves or get what you are given? As ever, I would LOVE to hear your thoughts, experiences and questions below.