“Feel Your Fullness” is Principle #5 of Intuitive Eating. Authors Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch created the principles of intuitive eating as a guide to help individuals make peace with food, break free from the chains of chronic dieting and learn to honor the body’s internal signals. In diet culture land, feeling full is seen as taboo: a means to feel guilty and shameful for “eating too much”. In reality, it is a privilege to feel full: it means you have enough to meet one of your most biological basic needs, while many in the world, unfortunately, do not. Can you view eating enough food to feel satisfyingly full as a privilege?

It is a learned skill to recognize when your body is done eating. How many of us tend to rely on an empty plate as our cue to stop eating? It’s normal. We are heavily influenced by external cues during our eating times.

There’s a full spectrum of fullness ranging from neutral sensations to uncomfortable over-fullness. When eat from a ravenous, over-hungry state, overeating is much more likely and therefore, so is the feeling of being uncomfortable and overstuffed. And along with this discomfort typically comes shame and guilt. Staying mindful and conscious, from the beginning of the eating experience to the very end, is vital in listening for, recognizing and respecting your fullness.

There are so many reasons to eat - for pleasure, when we’re stressed, because we are physically hungry - and these varieties of hunger can lead to different eating experiences and fullness levels.

Here is a list of ways to get to know and consciously honor your fullness:

1. Give yourself unconditional permission to eat.

Respecting your fullness means you can acknowledge when your body has had enough to eat biologically, and this principle relies heavily on giving yourself unconditional permission to eat (Principle 3: Make Peace with Food). How can you leave food on your plate if you are unsure when you’ll be able to eat that food or meal again? Respecting your fullness, stopping eating when you are full, becomes much easier when you know you’ll be able to eat food again when you become hungry.

2. Honor your hunger.

When we go into a food decision-making process in a starved state, respecting your fullness will be so much more difficult. Your body is just screaming “feed me all the food, eat it all while you can and eat as much as you can because I don’t know when you will feed me again next.” Our bodies are super dramatic (smart, but dramatic). They’ll do anything to keep you alive, and that includes preventing a famine, albeit self-imposed. Make sure to keep your body biologically fed with satisfying food choices. Check-in throughout the day, especially before a meal. Ask yourself “how hungry am I? What do I want to eat?”.

3. Engage conscious eating.

While dieting, I’m sure you’ve come across this phenomenon I like to call “pressing the f*ck it button”: when you’re so hungry because of restrictive/restrained eating, that when you do eat something “against the rules”, you turn off the mindfulness lights and just eat without checking in with your body. To combat this “lights out” style of eating, neutrally observe your eating. Become super aware of how you’re feeling, why you’re eating, and where you are at on the hunger/fullness scale.

4. Stay mindful, remove distraction.

Create an enjoyable eating experience with food. Value the time you have to nourish your body, when available to you. When we eat while working or watching TV, checking in with your fullness cues becomes much more difficult. Be in the moment with your food. While this not may work for everyone, every time since we live in such a work-driven, fast-paced society, try to get the most satisfaction out of your eating and be aware of whether or not the distraction removes from this experience.

5. Engage in sense perception and really taste the food.

Ask yourself how your food tastes. How does it smell? Notice the mouthfeel, the temperature, its palatability. Is it worthy of your taste buds, or are you simply eating because the food is in front of you? Remember, just as we can give ourselves permissions to eat the foods we do like, it’s okay to say “no, thank you!” to the ones we do not like or want at that moment. You are in charge of what and how much you eat.

6. Pause in the middle.

Check in midway through your meal or snack for a time-out. Put the fork down, check-in with your body and stomach. How does the food taste now? Could you keep eating? Are you satisfied? Is your hunger beginning to dissipate and you’re starting to feel full? Take a few more bites if you’re still hungry and repeat this step. Stay present and mindful. This is a practice, be open to the answers your body shares with you.

7. Check-in at the end.

Observe your fullness level non-judgmentally. Take note of how you’re feeling. Did you reach comfortable satiety? Did you surpass it? By how much? Remember, eating past the point of fullness happens, and it’s okay. No room for guilt and shame when it comes to eating. Be patient and compassionate with yourself.

8. Know what fullness feels like.

Keep a food log and record your hunger/fullness levels. Neutrally observe your eating choices. Take note of how it feels eating from a place of ravenous hunger versus neutral hunger sensations. Take notes on how it physically feels in your body to feel full. Does it feel like a full belly? A sense of satisfaction? Check-in and record your findings.

9. When you feel full, consciously choose to stop.

Leaving food on your plate can be difficult, especially for those who have chronically dieted. Dieting instills a “clean your plate” mentality since it views eating at meal times as “legal.” Practice reinforcing your inner knowing of fullness and that the bite in your mouth is your last. Nudge your plate forward, put your utensils or napkin in your plate, wrap up the food as leftovers - do what you need to do to stand by your decision. Remember, you can and will eat again. You are finished with this snack or meal. Remember, by honoring your hunger in the very beginning, it is much easier to recognize your fullness.

10. Know you’ll be able to eat again.

Remind yourself you do not need to finish everything on your plate; it’s okay to save it for another time or leave it. By getting acquainted with your taste buds and satiety levels, you’re connecting to your body and building a better relationship with it each time you choose to respect your fullness.

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This blog post was inspired by the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resche.