Intuitive Eating Principle # 5 ; Feel Your Fullness

Updated: May 5, 2020

Woman mindfully eating balanced meal without distractions


Welcome to our introductory series on Intuitive Eating, a non-diet and weight-neutral approach to health. This post is going to be all about Principle #5: Feel Your Fullness.

Feel Your Fullness is a tool to teach you to start trusting yourself around all foods; to feel in control of not only what you eat, but how much you eat. Now there’s nothing wrong with eating all the food on your plate, we all do it from time to time. The problem is when it’s such an automatic behaviour and you’re not tuning into your fullness signals; before you know it, you’ve overeaten and you’re feeling uncomfortably full again.

So, let me ask you, do you habitually eat everything served on your plate, regardless of how big or small the portion is? If you are a habitual dieter, you can probably relate to this and leaving food on the plate can be difficult to achieve. This “clean the plate “mentality can happen because there are rules about what, how much, and when you can eat. For example, if the diet you’re following asks you to fast all day and then eat a “real” meal for dinner, naturally you’ll be cleaning up all the food on your plate at dinner time! This is because fasting can create a subconscious sense of scarcity around food, which then triggers the behaviour of cleaning your plate when you’re “allowed” to eat. Because you’ve been feeling deprived, you will take any chance you can get to eat everything on your plate.

Another scenario is if your diet only “allows” you to eat very small portion sizes, you will also most likely be cleaning your plate every meal. And every time you eat everything you are allowed in your diet you are not paying attention to your fullness cues.

There may also be other reasons why you clean your plate, even if you don’t diet, check out some of the common ones below and see if they relate to you:

· As a child that you had to finish everything on your plate in order to get dessert, or to be able to leave the dinner table.

· You were told to think of the starving children in Africa and not to waste food.

· You grew up with a lot of siblings and had to “compete” for food.

· Food was scarce growing up, so whenever there was food, you had to get it all in for enough nourishment.

· You just find it hard to leave any food on your plate. You believe that you’re only done eating once there’s nothing left on your plate.

· You don’t honour your hunger and habitually eat in a ravenous state, which usually leads to overeating and getting uncomfortably full.

The idea behind Feel Your Fullness is to learn how to respect and tune into your fullness cues, in order to prevent uncomfortable feelings of fullness. And this doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to overeat sometimes if you choose to (there are no rules of perfection in Intuitive Eating) This is about recognising the automatic, mindless behaviour of eating too much and often the negative consequences of being physically uncomfortable and/or mentally distressed about it.

One way to start tuning into your fullness cues and discovering what “comfortable fullness” means to you is to practice mindful eating. Eating mindfully will bring attention and awareness to what your body is telling you as you eat a meal.

You can start by simply taking a pause in the middle of a meal and asking yourself two questions:

How does the food taste? Is this food worthy of my taste buds? This is a great question to ask, because sometimes we eat food not because it tastes good, but just because it’s in front of us.

Then start ask yourself, Am I starting to feel full? Is my hunger going dissipating?

If the food tastes good and you’re still hungry, keep eating. Stay open and curious. This step is not about feeling like “I have to stop eating at any sign of fullness”. Don’t turn this step into another rule or dieting behaviour. This is just about increasing awareness around mealtimes.

​When you finish your meal, ask yourself where is your fullness level now? Do you feel comfortable full? Or uncomfortably full? Or maybe you’re still feeling hungry and didn’t eat enough? Maybe start to write your experiences down in a journal, to reflect on.

At first it might feel challenging to even practice mindful eating, especially if you often eat on the go, or quickly, or in a distracted way. So to help you, here are a few suggestions on how to create a more mindful environment at mealtimes.

First, slow down. Before a meal, take a few deep breaths and make a conscious effort to take some time to eat. Even if it’s just 10-15 minutes. Chew your food before swallowing and take a pause or two during the meal.

Second, when you are practicing mindful eating, the less distractions there are while eating, the more likely you’ll be able to tune into your fullness cues. So, try to eat without T.V., checking email or surfing the net. Avoid eating when driving or reading a magazine. If you start noticing that you tend to eat past fullness while you’re doing other things, you may want to try to just eat when you eat. If doing this with all meals seems unrealistic, try it with just one meal. Distractions take us out of our body, so the less distractions there are while eating, the more likely you’ll be able to tune into your fullness cues.

How much you may need to eat to feel comfortable fullness may vary each meal or each day. This is because fullness after a meal can be influenced by many factors, like how long it’s been since your last meal. If it’s been a while, you may need a bigger meal to feel full. Some people prefer smaller, more frequent meals, and others prefer larger, less frequent meals. There’s no one “right” way. Do what works for you. Additionally, what you eat at a meal will influence feelings of fullness. Did you eat a meal full of complex carbohydrates, fibre, protein and fat? Generally, more nutritionally dense whole foods will leave you feeling fuller longer than less nutritionally-dense highly processed foods. Now again, this doesn’t mean you can’t a biscuit. It’s just understanding how different foods may affect your fullness cues. Also, be aware of “diet” foods, such as rice cakes, popcorn, shakes, or salads. These types of foods can create a sense of physical fullness in your stomach, but it’s often short-lived, and leaves you wanting more.

If you would like to learn more about Intuitive Eating and how it can help you, book an appointment with us. We offer consultation both in rooms and via skype.

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Tribole, E. & Resch, E. (2012) Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press

Disclaimer: Please note that the information in this or any other blog posts on this site may not be suitable or apply to you, depending on where you’re at in your mental health and/or eating disorder/diet recovery journey. This information is for educational purposes only and not meant to be a substitute for medical or psychiatric advice. Please consult your healthcare practitioner before making any changes.

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