As an Intuitive Eating dietitian, I am anti-diet. I don’t believe in using external rules or plans to elicit behavior change. Instead, I believe in breaking the cycle of chronic dieting by tuning back into your body signals, which includes eating based on your body’s feelings of hunger and fullness. The idea is that by eating when you are hungry, and stopping when you are full, you’re more apt to naturally eat the right amount for your body.

But thinking about this from only from hunger-fullness perspective leaves out one key piece of the puzzle: satisfaction.

Fullness vs. Satisfaction

It’s one thing to feel physically full, it’s another to feel satisfied. As Rachael Hartley, a registered dietitian and nutrition therapist, explains: “Fullness is the physical sensation of satiety, while satisfaction is the mental sensation of satiety.”

It’s possible feel full without feeling satisfied. For example, eating a huge bowl of vegetables would make your stomach feel physically full, but you wouldn’t feel satisfied with it as a meal. And if you aren’t satisfied, you will keep looking for more food to satisfy you regardless of how full you feel. This is seeking behavior: grazing on random food to try to find that satisfaction feeling, which leads to overeating and sometimes binging. On the other hand, foods can be satisfying but not filling (I’m looking at you, donuts and candy).

Which is why, when you’re eating a meal or snack, it’s important to think about not just physical fullness but also how satisfying the food is to you. Satisfaction, rather than just fullness, is a better indicator for deciding when your body is ready to stop eating. It’s satisfaction that turns off the urge to eat.

How to Build A Satisfying Meal

Follow these two steps to find that sweet spot between fullness and satisfaction. 

  1. Ask yourself “what foods do I enjoy the taste of?”. For a food to be satisfying, it needs to taste good. Make a list of foods that you enjoy eating, whether that is the taste, the texture, the smell, etc. For example, one of my clients realized that hot foods at breakfast satisfy her way more than cold foods. She would be just as full if she ate a yogurt bowl, but she wouldn’t feel satisfied. Once she realized this, and started eating hot meals like eggs or breakfast sandwiches, she was able to stay full and satisfied for much longer. The foods that are satisfying to you may change from day to day or even meal to meal. Before each meal, take a moment to pause and think about what food sounds good to you at that moment in time. If you’ve been dieting for awhile or are used to following food rules, this may be hard at first. Play around with it and take note of how satisfied (or unsatisfied) you feel after eating different foods.
  2. Include carbohydrate, protein and fat. These three nutrients signal fullness by releasing hunger-suppressing hormones and raising your blood sugar. While it’s possible to fill up your stomach with low calorie/high volume foods (going back to that huge bowl of vegetables), without protein, fat or carbohydrates, your body won’t feel satisfied.

What foods are most satisfying to you? Share in the comments below.

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