Ditching the meal plan or the diet rule book can be really scary. You are used to having everything set out in neat little rows highlighting what is 'good' or 'bad', and how much you 'should' be eating.
Beginning to tune in to your own body’s cues around hunger, fullness and satisfaction can be a great place to start when first learning to reject dieting.
If you have gone through the diet cycle again and again, describing these body cues can feel like an impossible task. And the truth is, I can't tell you what hunger, fullness and satisfactions feel like for you. Everyone is different.
So let’s pause and tune in.
Think about a time when you were uncomfortably full. What did that feel like? Perhaps you felt bloated, tight in the stomach, sick or sleepy. Or maybe your experience was different. There is no right or wrong.
Now think about a time when you felt uncomfortably hungry. Maybe you noticed your stomach grumbling. Perhaps you felt nauseous. You might have felt irritable or had trouble concentrating. Or perhaps you noticed different sensations.
Extreme hunger or fullness are often the easier signals to pick up on, since they are generally pretty hard to ignore.
But the task of noticing comfortable hunger, neutrality or comfortable fullness can be a little more difficult.
This is where observing your body in the moment can be really helpful.
If you tune in throughout the day, you might begin to notice that comfortable hunger brings on a dulled sense of stomach emptiness or growling. Comfortable fullness might produce a slight stretch in the tummy, or less interest in food. Feeling neither hungry nor full might simply feel like the absence of your cues for hunger or fullness. Or these cues might bring on other sensations.
Another (often overlooked) piece of the puzzle is satiety, or how satisfied you feel after eating. This can sometimes be easier to identify, and is described as the emotional or mental side of eating.
If you are having trouble identifying what satiety feels like for you, imagine you are at a restaurant. You read through the menu, and find something that sounds amazing. The anticipation of the meal builds up and you are so excited to try it.
Let’s assume that the meal met your expectations. It was absolutely delicious, and the best meal you have had in ages.
What does that feel like? Perhaps you feel content, happy or joyous. You feel completely satisfied. You might even notice your fullness a little earlier than usual.
Now let’s assume the meal wasn’t what you expected. How do you feel now? You might feel disappointed, cheated or ripped off. Plus if you are anything like me, this is the part where you’ll be looking at other people’s plates. Yep, ‘food envy’ at its best. You might continue eating (your disappointing meal, your friends chips, dessert) despite already being full or uncomfortably full. It’s that sense of an itch not quite being scratched, and shows a complete lack of satisfaction with your meal.
The satisfaction factor highlights why honouring your body not only means listening to how much food you feel like, but also what you feel like. If you tune in and notice that you feel like chocolate, that's perfectly fine. Craving an apple would be fine too. If you can, approach your eating with curiosity rather than judgement.
Tuning in to your body cues can take a bit of getting used to. Keep in mind that there is no right or wrong. It’s ok to eat when you aren’t hungry. It’s ok to continue eating after comfortable fullness. This is still part of normal eating, and it’s all ok. Your body cues are a guide, not a rule book.
Trusting your body again takes time.
But one day you will pause, tune in and notice that perhaps you never needed that rug under you after all.
Next post: Ditch the food guilt with mindful eating