The "Art" of Respecting Fullness - harder than it looks!

Does anyone else have trouble stopping eating when they feel full? I have recently decided to re-tune into this, because I've noticed how easy it is for me to eat past the point of comfortable fullness when I'm fully enjoying food without any restrictions or limits present. Which I am completely okay with, and I don't allow any guilt or shame to enter the equation at all. However, I do notice sometimes, that the "overfull" feeling I might experience can be distracting or cause difficulty with falling asleep, or even digestive upset. So I decided to give this some attention, and guess what I've rediscovered?

Stopping eating when comfortably full can be REALLY HARD!!!

The natural inclination to want to keep eating is strong. I don't want to stop eating at two pancakes, even though the signals of impending fullness beckon from my stomach, even though I know I can eat more pancakes in a few hours if I want to. I want to eat three - two pancakes feels visually and psychologically like "not enough". When out at a restaurant, I want to enjoy a glass of wine, an appetizer, main course and some dessert. I don't want to skip dessert even though I am most definitely full by that time - missing dessert feels like I'm depriving myself.

How much of this strong opposition  is left over from years of placing rules on what, when and how much I could eat, I can't say for sure, but I do think that it is related to this. What I know about myself is that I resist HARD against any attempt, even self-imposed attempts, to be told what do to. For example, for years I could never understand why I couldn't make weekly meal planning work. I would spend hours creating beautiful meal plans and grocery lists, get to Tuesday or Wednesday, and flat out refuse to make what I had planned for supper that night because I just didn't want it. I didn't want to eat chicken stir-fry (even though I'm the one who had originally planned it) when what I actually felt like in that moment was spaghetti and meatballs. I could never figure out how to predict in advance what I would feel like eating, and I resented making something that I wasn't in the mood for (and the fact that it was planned and I was supposed to make it would guarantee that I wouldn't be in the mood for it!) Now part of this stubborn resistance, and the similar resistance that I feel to stopping eating when I am enjoying myself is probably part of my strong personality, but I also believe that it is linked to the deprivation-based diet mentality that I forced myself to endure for years, and there are probably some lingering food police hidden away in a deep pocket of my brain. Exploring these feelings has proven to be really enlightening, because this is the kind of work that I ask my clients to experiment with - tuning into fullness and practicing honouring it. I am practicing it as well, and can empathize with anyone who finds this challenging.

If this is something that you struggle with as well - and know that there are many of us - while I don't believe that there is a clear-cut solution to be applied, I offer some of my thoughts on how to deal with this:

  1. Pay attention to those feelings of resistance when you notice them, and see if you can hear what they are really telling you. Is there a feeling of deprivation, of not getting enough? There is good information to be found from simply listening and seeking to understand.
  2. Practice reminding yourself gently that honouring your body's fullness cues is a way of taking care of yourself, not a means of depriving yourself. There is a very big difference between making yourself stop eating when still a little hungry vs stopping when comfortably full.
  3. If Number 2 is difficult, see if you can shift to a values instead of rules mindset. For example, "I value the process of learning to listen to my body" or "I value the feeling of being comfortable instead of stuffed" as opposed to "I must stop eating before I get full" or "I must not have seconds".
  4. Experiment with taking your time eating, and pausing briefly throughout your meal. This is part of what eating mindfully is about. It can take some time for your brain to signal you that you are full, and if you aren't fully tuned in throughout this process the fullness can really sneak up on you. If you do notice yourself eating rapidly and resisting the idea of slowing down, go back to Number 1.
  5. To add to that last point, hunger and fullness are not black and white - they can be extremely subtle and nuanced, and exploring them with curiosity is the key, rather than aiming for perfection (spoiler alert - you will always fail if being perfect is your goal).
  6. Allow yourself to feel the feelings that may emerge when you are faced with the option to stop eating because of fullness - fear, anxiety, sadness or anger may occur. While these feelings may surprise you, they are usually left over from diet mentality and arise from a perceived threat of being deprived. They are also temporary, and if you recognize them, they will pass quicker.
  7. When those feelings occur, you could ask yourself if mood, stress from other areas of life, or tiredness may influencing how you are reacting and the intensity of those emotions - what else might you need in that moment? The key here is that you are still absolutely allowed to choose eating - you are just making some room for other self-care options that might help as well, while remaining fully in control of your choices.
  8. Above all, be gentle with yourself, and approach this process with curiosity. If you do "make a mistake", know that your body is always making tiny metabolic adjustments to return you to your comfortable equilibrium. If you do overeat, see if the gap between your last meal and the next time that hunger emerges is a little longer than usual. Our bodies are amazing at making up for our errors so that we don't have to worry about being perfect!