What happens when you stop fearing fullness

(2005) I was still trying to figure out my eating habits, and how to stop over-analyzing (and counting) every bite of every day. I wasn’t ready to completely relinquish control, but I was curious about it. One of the first steps I took in recovery, as a college sophomore, was treating myself to a serving of ice cream every night after a Dining Hall dinner.

This may seem small, but it was a huge step for me.

I usually had ice cream with dinner—have you heard of the Penn State Creamery?—so this was an extra dose of sweetness. I went to the small food shop open in our student center and bought an ice cream bar, or a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, or a drumstick (of the ice-cream-cone variety). I went with whatever sounded good that night, and I ate it between dinner and bedtime (when I was usually hungry again).

After this extra snack, I finally felt full. It was a somewhat foreign feeling to me at the time. I took it as a good sign. Sometimes I even felt full when I woke up the next morning—instead of waking to the sound and feeling of my stomach growling. A turning point.

A diet will teach you to fear fullness.

So many of my clients have a hard time with the feeling of fullness. There is so much initial resistance to the sensation of fullness—it’s associated with gluttony, a loss of self-control, discomfort, and sometimes even despair. It can provoke a sense of failure. In some cases, there’s even an attempt to use a feeling of fullness as a way to restrict: “I felt too full.”

Eventually, my hope is that the feeling of fullness does the exact opposite. That, eventually, it feels good. It feels like you nourished your body, like you gave it what it needed in that moment. Eventually, there’s a comfort in knowing your needs were met, your satisfaction tapped.

Eating intuitively is about more than eating to the feeling of fullness.

The “eat when you’re hungry stop when you’re full” understanding of Intuitive Eating leaves a lot to be desired. It completely omits satisfaction, pleasure, permission to eat all foods, and emotional eating and experiencing emotion while you eat. And eating intuitively doesn’t always mean stopping at the exact moment you feel full. In fact, it’s OK to not do that. It’s your choice.

And therein lies one (of oh-so-many) difference between dieting and eating intuitively: You get to choose fullness, and satisfaction.

You get to choose when the day/meal calls for eating past fullness. You get to choose your comfort level with fullness. You get to learn what it means for you to be full, and satisfied. You get to learn what your body needs, instead of relying on portion sizes, calorie counts, or conforming to a fear of fullness that does nothing but prevent your body from ever feeling fully nourished.

feel fullness with full fat snacks
All about that high-fat yogurt.

(Now) For myself and for clients, I focus on foods that satisfy and fill me up. This looks different for all of us.

In 2005, as I started to explore recovery, it started with fullness. It started with learning how much mental space opened up when I was finally FULL after a meal (and then a snack), and my brain could stop thinking about food for a few hours because it had what it needed. It was the first thing I stopped fearing. Fullness isn’t always the right place for recovery to start, but it was good for me.

Listen to IE Principle 5: Feeling Fullness with Kim Hoban on the RD Real Talk podcast

Learn more about this principle, what it means to feel fullness and how to work with yourself (or a dietitian) through this process.

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