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What Does Fullness Mean to You?

Among people who struggle with under- and overeating, there’s quite a bit of confusion about the word “full.” Is it that blissful instant of eating just enough or does it connote going beyond comfort? More important than the definition is knowing when you are still in an eating pleasure zone and when you’ve moved on to physical discomfort.

Rather than pinpoint one exact moment when you’re full, think of the process on a continuum, going from empty to enough food. Sometimes one more bite (if it’s large and the food is dense and high fat) will put you over the edge; more likely, one bite more or less won’t make much of a difference. Knowing when you’ve eaten to sufficiency is a judgment call, a combination of being tuned in to appetite signals, using body memory of previous eating experiences to recognize about how much food to enjoy in a sitting, and tapping into your judgment of how much you need to take in at the moment. Like the rest of eating, recognizing fullness is an art, not a science.

If you’re unsure about how much to eat, perhaps the word “full” gets in the way. A colleague, Linda Moran, author of How to Survive Your Diet, calls the moment of satisfaction “the sigh,” when you know you arrive at the highpoint of pleasure and can contentedly stop eating. However, there’s no such purely positive word or phrase for “full,” which has negative associations of being overfed and stuffed along with pleasing ones of satiation. After all, we may say, “Ugh, I’m so full, I feel sick” as well as, “Boy, that was good. I’m full.” It’s important to know what the word means to you!

Call it whatever, it’s vital to know the signs that you’ve given your body enough fuel for the time being. The goal is to stay in the pleasure zone. Start with what signals your body gives you that it’s fueled up—a slight pressure in the belly which no longer feels empty. Fullness (or whatever you call it) should be a pleasurable sensation. Those of you who are used to overeating will be surprised (and maybe disappointed) at how little food it takes to fill up, while those of you who are used to undereating will likely find any reasonable amount of food in your stomach discomfiting. In both cases, you’ll need to experiment with quantities: What is too little food? Too much? Just right?

While you’re working on the physical aspect of fullness, keep tabs on your associations with the word. Make sure that your beliefs about giving yourself sufficient nourishment are positive and that your self-talk about fullness encourages you to find pleasure in the food you’re eating and in feeding yourself well.

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