On busy days, my meals consist of me throwing together a bunch of random veggies, a protein, and a carb option while I sit at my laptop and scroll mindlessly through school emails, assignment postings, and all of my Facebook groups for clubs I’m in. After what seems like 5 minutes, I look down at my plate and it’s empty. Did I even eat, or did a small child come steal my food while I was stuck in an online daze? I stuff my face while completely absorbed in something else, and before I know it, my meal experience is over. After, I’m usually left feeling both unsatisfied and just a little bit too full.
It seems impossible for both of these feelings to occur at the same time, but let me explain. While I was filling my body with food, I wasn’t actually aware that I was doing so. My complete lack of attention led to me ignoring my level of fullness, hence the “I may need to unbutton my pants” feeling. Along with that, I didn’t actually experience eating or pay attention to the taste, smell, and texture of my food; hence the lack of satisfaction. Both having awareness of hunger/fullness while eating and fully experiencing the meal are what Dietitians call “Intuitive Eating”.
Intuitive eating is really complex and multi-faceted, but also really simple. I could go on and on about how to eat intuitively, but it all comes down to just paying attention. Paying attention both to what your body wants, and also how your food is making it feel.
Dietitians use what is called a “Hunger and Satiety Scale” to help clients gauge their hunger and satiety (satisfaction) levels. On this scale, there are numbers 1-10, ranging from Absolutely Dying of Hunger, to Painfully Full. It is ideal to eat at around a level of 3-4, which would be that you are a little hungry and will be getting hungrier very soon. Normally, stopping at around a 6-6.5, which signifies that you are comfortably full and won’t need to eat for another 3ish hours, is sufficient to avoid the overly-stuffed feeling.
Before you eat your meal, take a little time to check in on your hunger level. Also, take time to notice what your body wants. For example, if you just can’t seem to feel satisfied, maybe adding another source of fat will finally help you feel fulfilled. If your energy levels have been low, consider making your meal a little extra carbo-licious (yes, it’s a word). If you haven’t been full lately, add another source of protein. (If you’re confused about the difference between satisfaction and fullness, I’ll be writing another upcoming post about it soon!) As you take each bite, pay attention to the satisfaction that you are experiencing, and how you become closer to fullness as the meal goes on. When you think you might be done eating, ask yourself where you’re at on the hunger/fullness scale, and if you feel satisfied by your food choice. This process takes practice, so don’t stress if it doesn’t go perfectly the first few tries.
Intuitive eating really does have so many benefits. Listening to our bodies helps them maintain a state of balance, which can help regulate energy levels and metabolism.1Not to mention that achieving a satisfying level of hunger can help avoid feeling hangry around 3 PM. On the opposite end of the spectrum, it can help combat eating too much and feeling like a busted can of biscuits later on. That, my friends, is a feeling I’m all too familiar with.
I realize that life is not a perfect fairytale where we all have time to eat intuitively 24/7. However, if we find ourselves in a pinch, one thing we can still do is check in on our hunger and fullness levels before and after a meal. This, at the very least, helps maintain awareness of how our food makes us feel, and I consider that a win.
- Ciliska D. Set Point: What Your Body is Trying to Tell You | National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC). Nedic.ca. http://nedic.ca/set-point-what-your-body-trying-tell-you. Published 2019. Accessed May 15, 2019.