Everyone Has a Fullness Point
In her witty handbook “When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair” Geneen Roth depicts the incredulousness chronic dieters display when they are given the advice to eat what they want when hungry and stop when they are full:
I can’t believe you’re saying I can eat what I want. You don’t know me. If I ate what I wanted, I’d eat three dozen doughnuts, a gallon of ice cream, and a pizza — and that would be the appetizer.
How many of us feel this way?
The “Feel Your Fullness” principle may be the toughest principle to incorporate into our lives. It requires, in the very moment of eating something delicious, the heroic ability to tune out of the food and into our bodies to ask Am I still truly hungry?
Like the dieters Roth chronicles, we feel that our endless appetites, bottomless stomachs, or some sort of overarching food addiction stifles our natural ability to put our forks down when we are satisfied. But the attunement to our hunger and satiety cues is inborn, and we lose it only when we try to control our diets through external manipulation of food intake (i.e., dieting).
Dieting Masks Fullness Cues
Think about yourself or someone you know who finds it difficult to stop eating when full. She may likely chew gum or drink inordinate amounts of coffee to keep her mouth busy, refuse to bring tempting foods into her house, and fear overeating at Shabbos or Thanksgiving dinners. The overwhelming odds are that this person has been restricting her food intake for a long time.
In contrast, consider children and adults who can be surrounded by food (any amounts and kind) and magically stop when they have had enough. These lucky humans have no problem heeding their fullness signals.
Overeating, bingeing, and addictive eating are learned behaviors that can be reversed, not through more restriction but through relearning natural hunger/satiety cues.
Why It’s So Hard to Stop
There are factors that can cloud our intuitive judgement of satiety. Which ones apply to you?
Membership in the Clean-Your-Plate-Club. This common entreaty from parents and grandparents teaches children to ignore their intuitive hunger/satiety cues in favor of eating everything on their plate. Many who have grown up being urged to clean their plate have trouble relearning to eat according to internal signals.
Distraction. Have you ever eaten a meal while watching an engrossing movie? Chances are, you finished it and wanted seconds, and thirds, and a post-meal snack, and possibly, a very rich dessert. Eating, especially when you are relearning your hunger/satiety cues, requires you to be fully present to feel physically and emotionally satisfied with your meal. Your body’s subtle messages will not be heard if you eat while tuned into a book, television show, or in an overly emotional conversation.
Not Being Hungry Enough. Detecting fullness can happen only when you are actually hungry! As Geneen Roth writes, eating when you are not hungry is “like pouring water into an already full glass. There’s no space for the food to fill.”
Chronic Dieting. Imagine you are on Weight Watchers, and subsisted on a bare-bones diet all week so you can “splurge” your remaining points on a fancy restaurant dinner. If you are full by the time you are halfway done with your fettuccine alfredo, you better believe it will be hard to stop! After all, you are “entitled” to more food. The restriction that is attached to dieting can cause entanglement of emotional and physical feelings about food as well as dissociation from your body’s cues.
Being Too Hungry. Beginning a meal in a ravenous state can lead you to feel confused about your body’s signals. Think of the experience of breaking a fast; it can take a while to play catch-up with a body that is starving, and it is easy to overeat without realizing it. This is the most common issue Rena sees with her clients; if you don’t eat consistently throughout the day, come evening your body will be begging to be fed and have a hard time feeling satiated.
Did you know that this season is the most popular time for growth and development courses? People tend to be more introspective during the short shivery days of winter. Let’s use this opportunity to begin discovering what satiety feels like in our bodies.
Feeling our fullness is not easy; by being gentle with ourselves, understanding how tough it is, and attempting to get back in touch with our inner intuitive eater, we can slowly work toward it. Simply being aware of the internal struggle that can happen when we are full, even if we decide to continue eating, is a victory in itself. In the long-term, we can look forward to our fullness, trusting that the hunger will come again in good time.
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The Ten Principles of Intuitive Eating
Adapted from Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch
Reject the Diet Mentality
Honor your Hunger
Make Peace with Food
Challenge the Food Police
Respect your Fullness
Discover the Satisfaction Factor
Honor Your Feelings without Using Food
Respect your Body
Exercise – Feel the Difference
Honor your Health
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Rena’s Tool of the Month
You may find that you can Feel Your Fullness, but then what? Transitioning from the act of eating to the absence of eating is so difficult that many people continue to eat despite knowing that their bodies have had enough.
Rena recommends pausing in the middle of a meal for an internal check: Is the food still tasting good to me? How is my stomach feeling? The rest of my body?
With these frequent check-ins, you can anticipate fullness, and know what to do when the time comes for stopping.
Once you feel you are ready to transition away from eating, try doing something to reinforce that decision.
Put your fork and knife down and check in with yourself.
Make yourself a tea or any other hot drink of choice. Sip it slowly and pay attention to the feelings in your body.
If you are alone, try some deep breathing and positive self-talk. If you are with others, see if you can join a pleasant conversation and notice if your body feels pleasantly satisfied, or if you feel you need more food to feel your fullness.