My intern, Ally, is taking over my blog to bring you a 10-part Mini training teaching you about the ten principles of Intuitive Eating. Each week, a new blogpost will go live summarizing the key elements of the principle while also giving you actionable steps to bring the principle into your life. Ally’s written several posts in this series already, including:

If you haven’t already, make sure to check out those posts to get up to speed!

This week, Ally is teaching you all about Principle 6: Feel Your Fullness. To make sure you don’t miss any posts from this series, click here to subscribe to my weekly newsletter.  

Take it away, Ally!

Respecting your fullness cues may seem like obvious advice. If you’re full, why wouldn’t you just respect that feeling and stop eating? Yet, how many times have you been pushed to join the “clean plate club” or eat food just because it’s a routine meal time? If you habitually clean your plate without tuning into your body’s satiety signals, is this really respecting your fullness?

Principle 6 of Intuitive Eating, Feel your Fullness is all about observing your body’s cues that signal when you feel comfortably full and satisfied. Because dieters are so used to using exterior metrics to determine when to stop eating- calorie tracking apps, the time on the clock, a number of points- the act of detecting and honoring their internal hunger cues can feel foreign at first. 

When you trust that you have unconditional permission to enjoy all foods, it’s much easier to honor your fullness cues. As an Intuitive Eater, all foods are allowed so you can stop when you feel full, knowing that when a craving strikes for that food again, you can honor it. In this blog post, I’ll be sharing some tangible tips for how to become aware of your fullness, evaluate your level of fullness, and boost the satisfaction of your meals and snacks.

“One patient, Brittany, went on a very-low-carbohydrate diet. The only allowable food that she liked was peanut butter. She got to the point where she was eating entire jars of peanut butter because it was legal, and got totally disconnected from the fullness sensations in her body.” (Intuitive Eating pg 168)

In this patient’s scenario, peanut butter was one of the few “acceptable” foods on her diet that she felt safe eating. As a result, regardless of whether or not Brittany was still hungry, she continued to eat copious amounts of peanut butter. Because Brittany was deprived of nourishment, it was more challenging for her to honor her fullness cues. This is why honoring your hunger, making peace with food, and rejecting the diet mentality are necessary prerequisites to successfully respecting fullness.

Diets set rigid (and unrealistic!) rules around what foods you’re allowed to eat, what your portion size must be, and when you’re allowed to eat them. This mindset makes your brain think that food is scarce. As a result, your brain’s natural compensatory response is to drive you to overeat in attempts to protect you from the perceived threat of starvation. 

Remember, diets can be sneaky- in some cases they are easy to identify, like Weight Watchers which uses a point system to label certain foods as “free.” But oftentimes, they are more covert such as “clean eating,” which elevates certain foods while demonizing others. Regardless of whether or not your diet is obvious, when you are following any kind of food rules, your body registers that its access to food is restricted in some way or another. Under these conditions, being granted “permission” to eat feels rare, so you clean your plate on autopilot without any regard to your satiety cues any chance you get. 

Diets aren’t the only factor at play here- the “clean your plate” mentality can be easily influenced by so many things, including:

  • Lessons taught  by family and friends (even when they had positive intentions).
  • Respecting the economic value of food and not wanting it to go to “waste.”
  • Creating a habit of finishing all of your food at routine mealtimes (believing that when all of your food is gone, you stop eating).
  • Waiting until you reach a state of intense, ravenous hunger to eat. Often, this is due to restriction from dieting, as you may not be consuming enough food throughout the day.
  • The traumatizing, long-lasting effects of food insecurity.

Regardless of whether or not you experience the “clean plate” mentality, you may still be eating past comfortable fullness due to these influences. Staying present while you eat and tapping into your satiety cues requires some time and effort. The biggest focus here is recognizing your satiety cues and regaining awareness of your eating experience. As you grow in your practice as an Intuitive Eater, you will reach a point where the experience of uncomfortable fullness becomes increasingly rare. How cool is that?

“How can you or any dieter expect to leave food on your plate, if you believe that you won’t be able to eat that particular food or meal again?” (Intuitive Eating pg 169)

This quote really drives home the idea that in order to respect your fullness, you must grant yourself permission to eat again when you are hungry. Dieting instills the belief that you’ll never have access to “off-limits” foods again, causing you to negate your fullness cues and binge. As an Intuitive Eater in training, you learn that you can eat these foods again later- no foods are “off-limits.”  This allows you to stop eating when you feel comfortably full.

Note that Intuitive Eating is not the hunger-fullness diet. Give yourself grace- this relearning process isn’t perfect! It’s okay to eat past comfortable fullness. For example, perhaps you find yourself at a friend’s birthday party where cake is being served. Although you may no longer be physically hungry, it’s okay to participate in this celebration and enjoy cake. As an Intuitive Eater, you learn to understand how food can provide non-physical sources of nourishment. In this case, eating cake is a source of celebration, joy, and connection, and if it sounds good to you, you can enjoy a few bites without feeling guilty. Although you may not be hungry for more fuel, the experience of eating can still add value to your life in the form of happiness and memories with loved ones. 

Have you ever wondered how it’s possible to leave a few fries left on your plate at a restaurant? As an intuitive eater, no foods are “off-limits,” so you can consciously choose to listen to your hunger cues and stop eating when you begin to feel full. After all, if you’re hungry for more fries later, you can have them! At first, the newness of this intentional process may feel strange, but once that wears off, it becomes easier to leave food on your plate when you become full.

I can recall one instance where a well-meaning extended family member instructed my little brother and I to finish everything on our plates. While this caregiver was staying with us for the weekend, they made us a dinner of macaroni and cheese, broccoli, and grilled chicken (one of our favorite meals). As a young child around the age of 6 or 7, I was excited for this simple meal!

After I had finished about half of my food, I started to feel comfortably full, so I stopped eating. At this point in my life, I was still a small child who was largely unaffected by diet culture and therefore a natural intuitive eater. Unless an adult recommended otherwise, my food choices were solely based on my inner body wisdom. This family member saw that I hadn’t cleared my plate and told me to finish what was leftover. Of course, I felt confused by this instruction- why would I continue to eat if my body felt full? I could have more broccoli, macaroni and cheese, and chicken later on if I wanted to. After listening to my babysitter and clearing my plate, I was left feeling uncomfortably full and confused.

Looking back, I can recognize this experience as one of the many tears in my self trust of my inner body wisdom. This illustrates how a child can go from being a natural intuitive eater to distrusting their intuition. 

What does comfortable fullness feel like? This sensation is personalized to each of us as individuals, and it often involves feeling pleasantly satisfied and energized after a meal. It can be helpful to quantify this feeling (i.e. how full am I, on a scale of 1-10? Is this a pleasant, neutral, or uncomfortable fullness?)

Click here to access a FREE Intuitive Eater Hunger/Fullness Scale resource!

When you develop an understanding of these satiety factors, the process of trusting your body and feeling your fullness becomes easier. This is like a muscle, the more often you tap into these cues, the stronger this muscle becomes… 

Your fullness cues could be influenced by a variety of factors, including:

  • Your initial hunger level. If you were absolutely famished when you began eating, your body may need more fuel. When you begin eating from a place of primal hunger, it’s difficult to listen to your internal hunger cues because your body is compensating….

  • The kind of food you eat. Remember- no foods are inherently “better” or “worse” for you, but they each have varying levels of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat). If you choose to eat a less-filling food, like salad or fresh fruit, you’ll find yourself feeling hungry more quickly.

  • Social influence. When you eat with other people, you may be distracted or the duration of the meal may be extended. In this environment, you may find yourself looking to others to judge when to stop eating. As an example, if you’re in a social setting and the people you’re with are still eating, you may continue to eat to follow along with the rest of the group’s behaviors even if you are full. 

To increase awareness of your eating experience and satiety cues, focus on eating without distractions and pausing in the middle of your meal for a break to check-in. Ask yourself- am I eating because I’m still hungry, or just because food is there? What’s my hunger or fullness level feel like? Remain open to any answer without judgment. Each of our energy needs are entirely different and vary day to day. If you find yourself still feeling hungry, it’s perfectly fine to continue to eat. If you start to feel full, remind yourself that you have permission to eat all foods at any later time that you’re craving them. Respecting your fullness level will positively impact your peace of mind, the satisfaction you get out of the eating experience, your physical comfort in your body, and your ability to trust your body’s natural cues.

To help you implement this principle, Leah is giving you access to one of the most valuable tools that she uses with her clients.

Did you hear the news? We launched a podcast here at Leah Kern Nutrition! Shoulders Down Podcast is a podcast designed to teach you how to harness your intuition to govern not just how you eat but also how you live. New episodes get released every Tuesday!  Click here to listen to our latest episode on how to navigate Intuitive Eating while using cannabis.

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