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Understanding Fullness

by Marissa on June 21, 2017

Understanding fullness | Health Coach Marissa Vicario

One of the most important aspects of healthy eating – in my opinion as a health coach – is understanding fullness. Until you learn the ins and outs of understanding fullness, nothing else about healthy eating will make much sense. I know this sounds vague, but let me explain. 

First, there are two distinct types of hunger: 

  1. Physical Hunger: The kind of hunger you feel deep in your belly, which may cause identifiable physical reactions like pains, growls, headache and crankiness among others. This kind of hunger is satisfied with food. 
  2. Emotional Hunger: Hunger that causes very specific cravings for certain foods. It can trigger overeating, which may bring on feelings of guilt after. 

How often do you reach for a snack when you’re feeling stressed out at work, nervous about a presentation or bored by a project you’re working on? I find that many people experience emotional hunger when they’re unfulfilled in another area of their life – unhappy in a job or relationship or without healthy outlets for relieving stress. 

The key to understanding fullness is to first be able to differentiate between true, physical hunger and emotional hunger. 

Like hunger, fullness can also be abstract to grasp. There’s the kind of fullness that makes you full so “stuffed” that you need to unzip your pants. I regularly felt this kind of fullness throughout college when eating anywhere except the dining hall. I never understood that to eat and enjoy a meal in a healthy way meant not eating to this level of fullness. 

The physical fullness or satisfaction you feel from food is the brain’s response to hormones released when you eat. It takes your brain about 20 minutes after eating to register that feeling of fullness. 

Because your brain can’t keep up with your body in real-time, there are a few ways to manage hunger and fullness to your benefit.

One // Understand the physical signs of hunger and plan to eat when you feel them kick in. Don’t wait until you’re “hangry” or at the point where you’re so hungry you could eat absolutely anything. That is precisely the time when you make the wrong choices or overeat. My own personal signs of hunger include a dull headache, a pit in my stomach and little to no patience with my husband!

Two // Stop eating when you’re 80 percent full. This is the Japanese concept of hara hachi bu. This gives your brain time to catch up and takes the pressure off your digestive system to work overtime. You’ll feel less bloated and tired after eating. 

Three // Be more mindful while you’re eating. The only way to accomplish one and two above is slow down when you eat, tune into your body and discover where those edges are for you. What I mean by that is practice knowing what it means for you to feel hungry. What are the signals your body sends. You may not even realize they’re signs of hunger until you slow down a little. Understand what it feels like to be satisfied from a meal instead of stuffed. These things take time, but it’s worth getting curious about it and taking the time to 

Like most things, understanding fullness takes time, but it’s worth getting curious about it and taking the time to truly know and nourish your body. For more reading on this topic, take a peek at this hunger and fullness scale.


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