I get asked this by people quite a bit, and those of you also in your non-diet, internally regulated eating journey might be struggling with the same question: “How full should I be?”
I answer this question, sometimes perhaps infuriatingly so, with, “Well, that depends on how full you want to feel.”
Pause. I read my questioner’s mind. Not helpful.
This answer, though, rescues you from the pat solutions that diets try to offer and don’t work. Think of the last diet you can remember – did it ever mention anything about respecting fullness? Or honoring your hunger? Probably not. It was likely much more concerned with teaching you how to trick your body out of feeling hungry and craving satisfaction (which never worked).
I know your frustration; after all, I was the person, back in my dieting days, who could not stop eating my favorite food, pizza, until I was absolutely uncomfortably stuffed. I had to work my way through this process, too.
So, a while back I wrote about experimenting with my fullness, having learned that there was a difference between being “no longer hungry” and the varying levels of fullness that one can experience. I decided to see what “no longer hungry” felt like as a stopping point.
I experimented and experimented. It took so much experimenting in the year and a half since I wrote that post. Here’s what I learned:
It’s not enough for me to be just “no longer hungry.” I do hit that spot while eating, I recognize it, but it does not satisfy me most of the time.
I also learned I don’t like to be really full either. So somewhere in between “no longer hungry” and “really full” is a sweet spot that I like. The beauty of this is that I get to decide what level of fullness satisfies me most.
What I figured out is that if I stop at “no longer hungry,” I’m hungry as hell in an hour. When I’m at work, I really need a meal to satisfy me for at least a couple of hours, because I don’t enjoy snacking every hour (though sometimes in my woeful lack of preparation for lunch at work, this is the reality).
If I go to “really full” – the kind of fullness that puts me on the edge of discomfort – it ruins my appetite for the next meal. That’s no fun at all.
It also depends on the meal I eat. If it’s an especially good meal, I might eat a little more than I usually do, if I feel like it. If it’s a meal that turned out just meh, then I’m probably going to eat just enough to get by to the next meal or snack.
I discovered that, as I progress through a meal, how the food tastes in my mouth works in tandem with how my stomach feels to tell me when to stop.
All of this I found out through, as I said, a lot of experimentation. Mindfulness, intuitive eating, internally regulated eating, normal eating…whatever you want to call it – that’s what I practiced. Paying attention to my meal, to my body, over and over again.
I wouldn’t have needed this experimentation if we lived in a world without diets and I’d grown up with structured family meals, if we lived in a world that had no particular expectations for the way women’s bodies looked and I had never tried to lose weight to meet them. But we don’t live in that world, so experimentation it is.
This is the hard part for those of us moving away from the diet mentality — learning to negotiate the gray areas of “What do I like?” “How much do I want?” “How hungry do I want to be?” “How full should I get?” And the hardest one: “How do I let go of judgment around food and my body?”
The answer to all of that is to keep practicing. Just keep being curious with yourself. Intuitive eating isn’t magic; we’re just learning skills, and skills just take practice. A lot of frickin’ practice.
And then one day, it isn’t intuitive eating anymore; it’s just eating. It’s not hard. You’re not thinking all the time about food and what to eat and how much to eat. You plan a bit. You feed yourself. Then you do other stuff.
It’s a beautiful thing.
So anyway, that’s how full I want to be when I eat. A little more full than “no longer hungry;” less full than “really full.” It’s hard to describe it in words but it doesn’t matter because it’s the thing that works for me and I just have to know it when I feel it. You’ll have your own thing, and even if you’re not there yet, eventually you’ll know it when you feel it too.
Tired of struggling on your own?
I’m launching a group coaching/online course in February to help you get free of diet mentality and further along toward normal eating. I’ve created this very affordable option because so many of you have wanted to work with me one-on-one but just can’t afford it. Make sure to get on my newsletter list as this will be the first place I send out more detailed information about the course, and enrollment will be limited. Get on my list here.