Satisfaction vs. Fullness

I have this little beef with Intuitive Eating.

Well … let me rephrase. I have this little beef with how Intuitive Eating is translated. 

IE is all about using internal cues (i.e hunger/fullness, cravings, how food makes you feel) vs. external cues (i.e. diets) to guide eating. Getting back in touch with, and honoring, hunger and fullness is a big part of it. In my practice, I teach clients something called the hunger/fullness scale, which I talk a little more about in this post. The idea is to tune into the subtle changes in the physical sensations of hunger and fullness, so you can better avoid the extremes, and be able to eat the right amount to fuel your body, taking into account metabolic needs (and thereby hunger) that change from day to day.

Sometimes IE is basically taught as a hunger/fullness diet. Which is wrong. When you inevitably eat past the point of fullness because a.) life, it happens and b.) sometimes it’s fun, you’ll feel like a failure, putting you right back into the diet cycle of shame followed by restriction followed by overeating followed by shame again.

It also overlooks the importance of satisfaction, which is even more important than fullness. To explain the difference to my clients, I say that fullness is a physical sensation of satiety, while satisfaction is the mental sensation of satiety (although there is a physical component to it which I’ll come back to).

Because sometimes you need three tacos and cheese grits to feel satisfied. 

Because sometimes you need three tacos and cheese grits to feel satisfied. 

You can be full without being satisfied. I could eat a ton of raw fruit and veggies to the point where my stomach was stretched out and physically full … but I wouldn’t feel satisfied. Without satisfaction, I’m going to continue seeking it out, probably by binging, overeating, obsessively thinking about food or just grazing on lots of random crap. Satisfaction turns off the drive to eat, not fullness.

Generally speaking, satisfying meals contain fat, protein and carbohydrate. While high volume/low calorie foods can signal fullness by filling up your stomach, fat, protein and carbohydrate all signal fullness in other ways (i.e. by bringing blood sugar back to normal, by releasing hunger suppressing hormones, like cholecystokinin, etc). That’s the physical part of satisfaction I mentioned earlier.

For a meal to be satisfying, it should also taste good. I was at an event recently where the food was pretty ick. I wanted to not be a miserable human being and have the energy to participate, so even though the food was kinda gross, I ate a balance of fat, protein and carbs, and enough to feel full. But I wasn’t satisfied. So the first thing I did after the event was over was swing by Starbucks for a latte and their sous vide egg bites (which are fan-flippin-tastic), because I still was craving satisfaction. This is one of the reasons why diets that appear balanced still don’t work – because even if you’re getting “enough” calories and including all the food groups, if you’re not satisfied, you’ll still be driven to eat.


Keep in mind, what you find satisfying might change from meal to meal, day to day, so stay attuned to what sounds good. Usually I find eating more carbs and fat is most satisfying for me, but lately I’ve noticed I’ve been more satisfied by higher protein, lower (not not) carb meals, maybe because I’ve been a little less active? After my trip to Japan, for a few days light salads, like this one, where crazy satisfying, probably because I was a little tapped out on grains after the noodle and rice-fest in Japan.

Also, food can be satisfying without being filling (think candy, soda, or chips), so when deciding what to eat, consider both. Mashed potatoes may be satisfying and you could eat enough fill your stomach, but without protein (hmmm, maybe some chicken) and produce (a hefty serving of roasted broccoli maybe?), it’s not going to last.

Other times you just need a simple (but delish) salad. 

Other times you just need a simple (but delish) salad. 

As always, the beauty of Intuitive Eating is that you have permission to get it wrong. Eating is not a test. You can’t pass or fail. There’s room to experiment, get curious, and figure out what’s satisfying for the unique individual that is you.