You might be thinking this is an easy one. But personally I think it is pretty tough. Easy is “Thanksgiving” full. There is no doubt there. But of course this is usually over full. Comfortable fullness is a whole different concept.
Eating for comfortable fullness is eating an amount of food that abates your hunger but doesn’t leave you feeling physically over stuffed. I say comfortable since the goal is to feel physically good when you are done eating a meal.
Stopping eating is difficult for many people. There are many reasons. Perhaps food waste is difficult for you. You remember your mother telling you about starving children. Or maybe you think Aunt Mary will think you don’t like her dinner? Maybe your friends will worry something is wrong. And of course it is easier to eat the whole serving then to wrap up the little bit left after your meal. Perhaps it just feels “right” to eat the whole thing. I mean who eats a half a cookie? Maybe you are overly hungry. That makes it real hard to stop. The reasons could go on and on. But the bottom line is that this eating is typically done with your mind and your eyes, NOT with your internal physical cues.
To listen to your physical cues of fullness it requires you, first and foremost, to be hungry. Next you have to be super conscious of your eating. So you must limit all distractions: turn off the TV, put down the book you’re reading, put down your phone, and turn off your computer. Eating while doing other things makes it next to impossible to notice your fullness. Over time you won’t have to maintain this level of super consciousness. It is only for beginners.
Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD and Elyse Resch, MS, RD, FADA, CEDRD from the book Intuitive Eating have a fullness scale of 1 to 10 (intuitiveeating.com). They define comfortable fullness as around a 6 or 7 level. But what does this fullness feel like? For me it feels “average”. I feel content. I do not think I can actually describe the feeling – maybe – “not expanded”? Figuring out what a 6 or 7 level of fullness feels like in your body is a challenge. When I first started I did a lot of guessing and was off fairly often. Some meals I stopped but then felt over full later. Other meals I was hungry and eating in an hour. I realized I had to stop a bit before I thought since my body would still get a bit more full even after I ate. It is a bit like learning to drink alcohol but not too much. But after a while I figured out what that feeling was in my body. Now it is easy to know when to stop.
Now – one of the hardest things is that I get disappointed when I am comfortably full and the food is so good and it would be so yummy in my mouth to eat more. I also have a hard time, even as an experienced intuitive eater, at fun social meals when I am chatting away and get distracted. I have to stop, take a breath, and make an effort to check in with my body and level of fullness. Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch who wrote the book Intuitive Eating recommend stopping about half way to do a fullness assessment.
I hope this gives you an idea of learning comfortably full. Intuitive Eating is a process of learning about your body and noticing how it feels and like all new skills takes time. I wish you all the best of luck.
When I tell people that I try to eat when I am hungry and stop when I am satisfied, the typical response is “of course”. That idea is so simple. And yet as simple as it sounds IT IS NOT EASY and most people don’t eat this way.
Eating when we are hungry may be how our body works but not how our society is set up. The structure of our days can be inflexible. Our meal times may not be when we are actually hungry. And when we get hungry there may be little to no time to eat or perhaps the food that is available is often high calorie and low nutrient density. And it is EVERYWHERE: the gas station, the card store, even the clothing store. Mindless eating is so easy in our society. I challenge you to come up with a place you frequent that doesn’t have food available. And there is often FREE food available: at the secretary’s desk, the lunch area, and even the car fix it place. Socializing also typically includes food and the portion sizes have gotten so big they are laughable.
So as simple as it sounds eating when you are hungry is a challenge. I think it may be like climbing Mt Everest or if not that hard at least as hard as getting up on time on a Monday morning. Before I tried to notice when I was hungry I ate according to the clock: 7:30 breakfast, noon lunch, etc. When I actually noticed my hunger it was overwhelming – I felt nauseous. I was a busy person and didn’t listen to my body. In order for me to start listening to my body I had to get really “quiet” with myself, be super conscious, to actually notice how my body was feeling and what it was “saying”.
I felt like I was learning a foreign language. If my body made this feeling – what did that mean? Hunger? Gas? Nothing? Maybe my hunger would show up as a headache, or being grouchy, or tired? Maybe I would feel weak? Maybe I would be hungry+angry=”hangry“.
After a bit I figured out my hunger would show up in my stomach area as very small pains. It was like my hunger signals were polite neighbors who might knock lightly but leave quickly if there wasn’t a response. The neighbors would come back again and again but were really polite until they got so mad they would try to break the door down. It was an awesome moment when I actually figured out how my body was talking to me! I felt empowered. I also learned that listening to my body for hunger also gave me feedback on lots of other things: like stress and feelings. But that is another blog.
I also had to learn when to eat. Do I eat when I first feel a hunger pain? Or right before the door is going to fall in? I learned that for me I wait until the second or third knock since my hunger is clear but I am not so hungry I am going to eat everything in front of me until I am overfull. But this took time. Getting clear takes a lot of noticing and energy. The good news is once you get used to listening to your body it becomes second nature. It is like learning to use your new phone. At first it takes a bit of learning but then it is easy.
My challenge to you is to try to listen to your hunger. How does your body tell YOU that you are hungry?
Sarah Gold is an intuitive eater, dietitian, chocolate lover, and dog lover,