Earlier today I went to a Father’s Day lunch to celebrate Tim and my dad. I ordered an awesome salad (it had potato croutons and bacon… magical) and then split a filet with my dad, too. It was decadent and delicious.
And, while I felt comfortably full when we left the restaurant, I just didn’t feel fully satisfied.
When I got home, I asked “what would help me feel fully satisfied in this moment?” The answer was “that meal was so salty, something sweet will do the trick!” So, I gave myself permission to have something more. Something sweet. I sliced up a super ripe nectarine, grabbed a few squares of dark chocolate with almonds, and enjoyed every single bite.
Afterwards, I felt totally satisfied and was able to enjoy the rest of my afternoon without food thoughts.
The process might sound really simple, but several years ago it would have gone way differently. After that lunch, I would have told myself “you’re full. You’ve had enough food. You don’t need anything else.” I would have then spent my entire afternoon obsessing over food. Craving something more. Walking in and out of the kitchen, rummaging through the fridge and pantry. Ultimately, bingeing on something like leftover Easter candies when I could no longer white-knuckle my way through the “don’t eat, you’re full” anymore. Then, I would have felt guilty and beat myself up for my lack of willpower.
When I traded my self judgement for some genuine curiosity, I found something out about myself: most of the time, feeling full isn’t enough. I also need to feel satisfied!
And, I also found out that I am not alone.
We, humans, are hardwired to seek pleasure! Not just because we like to feel good. But, on a biological level, because it actually helps us to function more optimally.
YES, that’s right — science proves that the more we enjoy our food, the more nutrients we absorb.
Dieting and strict food rules trigger the body’s stress response. This response slows our metabolism, decreases the absorption of nutrients, and hinders digestion.
When our pleasure is down and our stress is up, our bodies don’t function optimally. And, on top of that, our bodies release a chemical response that demands satisfaction (hello end of the day binges when we spend hours trying to tell ourselves fullness is enough or we that we “should” be able to stick with some low calorie, no enjoyment, diet).
On the flip-side, when we allow ourselves to experience pleasure with food and truly feel satisfied, we support our bodies in maximum digestion and absorption of the food we eat, too. The more we enjoy the food we eat, the more nutrients we absorb.
When pleasure is up, so is metabolic power.
Here are the best ways I can describe full v. satisfied as they feel to me:
- Full – experienced in my belly as the result of an amount of food, which feels like the absence of physical hunger signs and the presence of a comfortable amount of food in my stomach
- Satisfied – experienced in my head as the result of the pleasure from the food, where my tastebuds aren’t asking for anything else and I feel relaxed in my brain and peaceful in my thoughts
After years of checking in with myself, here are a few of the patterns I’ve noticed help me to feel satisfied (every body is different, so it is 100% ok if feeling satisfied looks differently for you):
- After a salty or savory meal, having something sweet
- Adding something crunchy to most meals (i.e. I am always throwing crackers onto a salad or super toasted bread along side a bowl of soup)
- Eating high amounts of fat at most meals
- Eating what I call “combo bites” (so not just a single food at once, but a little of this and a little of that together at the same time)
- Responding to season cravings (i.e. I love watermelon, but it doesn’t satisfy me in the winter the way it does in the summer. The same goes for butternut squash soup! Kills it in the satisfaction department come fall, but not so much in mid-July)
- Eating when I am small/medium hungry rather than waiting until I’m ravenous
- Staying hydrated between meals
- After something sweet, not having something savory (I just don’t like savory after sweet, personal preference!)
- Having a good mix of food I make for myself and also food from restaurants
- Slowing down, letting myself really taste food, and chewing each bite well
If you find yourself walking back into the kitchen 100 times after a meal, even if you’re “already full,” I would encourage you to check in with whether you truly feel satisfied! If the answer is “no,” get curious about what might help you to get there.