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  • Writer's pictureBreanna Mills R.D.

Fullness

Author: Breanna Mills R.D.

Friends sitting together on the lawn

Fullness often has a strong negative storyline with eating disorders, as well as in our society. Diet culture tells us that reaching fullness after eating is wrong and that we have done something bad if we allow ourselves to eat to that point. Fullness is similar to hunger, in that it is a signal from our body and it is the eating disorder that attaches meaning to this.


Fullness is regulated by a variety of hormones from our small bowel that signal to our body that we have received energy and nutrients from food. We also have nerves in our stomach that detect the stretching of our stomach that happens when we eat. Fullness can feel different for everyone. Here are some examples of how fullness could feel, both mentally and physically.

  • A pressure or heaviness in the stomach or abdomen

  • Distention of the stomach

  • The desire to eat is diminished

  • Feeling re-energized

  • Feeling tired or drowsy

  • Burping

  • Feeling happy or calm

  • Food not tasting as good as it did when you started eating

  • Significant decrease in preoccupation with food


During eating disorder recovery, identifying fullness can be difficult since our signals may not be loud enough to identify, or they may not happen regularly or on a predictable schedule. We can start to acknowledge fullness by approaching meals and snacks with curiosity and without judgement. There is no “right” way of being full and we can observe different scenarios and how different meals may affect our fullness level. A common fear that we hear from clients is around eating “too much.” Eating past comfortable fullness is completely normal at times and as you are learning to identify fullness, you may find yourself becoming overly full on occasion. This is okay! Our body can adapt and knows what to do with the food that we provide it with. Being full is not bad or wrong in anyway. Fullness is a temporary sensation that will pass.


Barriers to Fullness

While learning to identify fullness, there can be ways that the eating disorder sneaks in to try and distort what you are experiencing. Here are some common barriers to identifying fullness.


The Hunger and Fullness Diet

It is easy to fall into the trap of the “Hunger and Fullness Diet.” This means being in the mindset of eating only when we are hungry and stopping when we feel full. Part of normal eating is also eating for reasons outside of biological hunger and being able to explore and accept varying levels of fullness.


Stopping before true fullness

The ED may be so fearful of fullness that it may lead clients to stopping before they are actually truly full. No longer being hungry and being full and satisfied are different. If we never allow ourselves to reach true fullness, it becomes even scarier with time and then we aren’t able to give our body its what it truly needs.


Trying to find situations where you are least likely to eat past fullness

As you are learning to identify fullness, you may fall into the eating disorder’s trap of avoiding situations where you are more likely to eat past fullness. This could be a family gathering, holiday meals, restaurants, buffets, etc. If we are only eating in situations where we aren’t as likely to eat past fullness, then we aren’t giving ourselves true permission to eat to fullness and satisfaction.


Fake fullness

Another trap the eating disorder falls into is fake fullness. There are many foods that provide volume, but little sustenance. The eating disorder may want you to fill up on these foods to give the illusion of fullness, but this doesn’t help to give our body what it needs. From time to time we may eat foods that don’t provide us with much sustenance and that is okay! However, we need to be careful that the eating disorder is not solely relying on these foods.


Fullness is a completely normal human sensation. We are allowed to feel full and to eat food that nourishes us and provides our body with the energy and nutrients that it needs, without judgement.


References

Change Creates Change. (2021, January 19). Hunger and Fullness Cues [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3I2okLAbfaI

Evans, M. (2021). Module 4 Lesson 2: Mid-Stage Work [Online course]. In Nutrition Counseling for Eating Disorders with Marci Evans 3.0. Teachable. https://marcird.teachable.com/p/eating-disorders-training

Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2017). The intuitive eating workbook: Principles for nourishing a healthy relationship with food. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2020). Intuitive eating: A revolutionary anti-diet approach (4th ed.). St. Martin's Publishing Group.

Tsui, V. (2018). The Mindful Eating Workbook. Althea Press


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