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What is satisfaction anyway? An Intuitive Eating Approach

I often refer to satisfaction as the centre of Intuitive Eating and movement - in fact I often recommend thinking of the framework as a web with satisfaction at the centre. All the others interact in and out in varying amounts but they’ll be based on and lead to satisfaction. But what is it really?

Especially if you have been stuck in the diet cycle for a long time, or experience binge eating, it can be hard to know what feeling satisfied really means. I’m here to try and help.

What is satisfaction?

If you Google it, or look in the Oxford Dictionary you’ll get a variation of the following for satisfaction: “fulfilment of one’s wishes / expectations and / or needs - and the pleasure derived from this’. Interestingly its synonyms include contentment, pleasure, gratification, delight and even joy. So plenty of good feelings all round really.

Although we most often talk about satisfaction after a meal, you may also experience body satisfaction and life satisfaction.

How does it integrate with Intuitive Eating?

Discovering the satisfaction factor is the fifth principle of the Intuitive Eating Framework. But even the creators of the framework itself (Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch) have acknowledged the role of satisfaction at its centre.

Some principles it interacts with:

  • Honour your hunger: part of the description for this principle is providing the body with ‘adequate’ energy (and carbs). Adequate can be seen as a stepping stone to satisfaction. And focusing on satisfaction helps with conscious hunger, eating and fullness.

  • Respect your body: Body satisfaction can be defined as how you evaluate your own body in various different aspects and how satisfied you are with it. Markey et al found in a 2022 study of eating styles in 8 countries that there were pathways between higher levels of intuitive eating and higher body satisfaction and self-esteem - with more restrained eating (read diets) was associated with lower body satisfaction. This principle focuses on accepting and respecting your body - and being satisfied with this.

  • Feel your fullness - this principle focuses on trusting yourself to provide your body with the foods you desire - the ones that will make you feel satisfied. Feeling your fullness involves checking in as you eat, focusing on the sensory aspects of food as well as your own hunger levels - all aspects involved in determining if you feel satisfied.

  • Movement - feel the difference - it’s easy to limit satisfaction to what you eat. But remember those synonyms of delight and joy. They also relate to movement. Finding movement that satisfies you - whether it’s something to socialise, to de stress, to learn a new skill etc. only you know if a style of movement satisfies you.

Why am I not feeling satisfied with my eating currently?

  • You’re eating when stressed - not the best environment to lead to satisfaction. If you’re stressed you’re more likely to eat fast, be mentally ruminating or thinking over loads of things rather than being present and generally not take note of what you’re eating. And how can you be satisfied with what you’ve eaten if you haven’t taken a chance to notice it? Couple that with not feeling great and you’ve got a recipe for feeling dissatisfied.

  • You’re eating while distracted - As above, you’re not taking account of what you’re eating so won't notice all the little signs it’s satisfying.

  • You ‘re not eating what you actually want to eat - you’re instead eating what you think you ‘should’ be eating. You wanted to order the roast at a restaurant but decided on the salad. And it left you feeling like it was missing something - it was. If you’re not listening to what your body wants you will be dissatisfied.

  • You are eating when you’re not hungry - or when you’re super hungry - Anytime you’re ignoring your hunger signals you will end up either not eating enough to reach satisfaction, or being so hungry you eat past the point of fullness and end up not feeling satisfied. We’ve all had the feeling of being uncomfortably full - not satisfying.

  • You’re eating the same food again and again - habituation is real - we get bored of the same meals. A lack of variety means we don’t feel satisfied.

How to improve your satisfaction levels:

Be honest with yourself - what do you want to eat?

It may sound simple but the more you listen to what you want the easier it will be to satisfy those needs. And if you find okay I really want to eat something that makes you feel shame / guilt it may be time to reassess your relationship with food and why you think this way.

  • Give yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods.

  • Use the principles of gentle nutrition to ensure you’re nourishing your body and honouring your needs

  • Practice listening to your body and see how satisfied do you feel after

  • Maybe sit with what you want to eat for a while, is that craving still there?

Use all your senses

Think to yourself what type of food do I want - sweet, salty, spicy, smokey, refreshing. Utilise textures, flavours, aromas, appearance - maybe even sounds. Making eating an all encompassing experience will help you tune into feelings of satisfaction.

  • Think about all sensory aspects of the foods you fancy

  • While eating, make a conscious effort to notice how the food tastes, smells etc.

  • Atmosphere - if you’re at home or somewhere you can control the sounds and sights around you curate an eating experience

Variety is the spice of life

Bored of the same meal prep? Variety helps us not get bored of what we’re eating and prevents habituation. And if you’re a creature of habit (don’t worry I’m the same) it doesn’t mean overhauling your entire weeks meals / snacks etc. it may just mean adding another ingredient to a meal, or a different snack to your day.

  • Think colourful - add something visual to a meal to add some variety as well as using those senses

  • Find a new recipe that excites you / re-discover an old recipe that you know you love

  • Ask a friend / family member for the recipe for one of your favourite home cooked meals

  • If you have time / resources head out to a new cafe / restaurant and try something new on the menu

The three S’s of satisfied eating

Savour - take time to savour what you eat, how you move and listening to your body.

Slowly - wait until you’re hungry to eat (unless it’s practical hunger iykyk) and eat at a pace that allows you to check in and use those tools.

Sensually - use all your senses - tune in with them, use them and maybe even make an atmosphere that inspires them.

Ask yourself - how do I want to feel when I finish eating?

That’s the goal. If you want to feel full for the day it will lead to a different meal than wanting to feel light and nimble ready to move shortly after. Use this to guide you, and to have something to measure against. Be honest with yourself and realistic with your expectations.

This also applies to movement - how do you want to feel after moving? Strong, clear headed? That you were part of a team or an event. Only you know what you want from movement at this moment and it may change day by day.

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