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Have you ever had the strong desire to have a luscious chocolate sundae, but tried to “squash” that craving by eating a sugar-free chocolate pudding instead? Did it work? More often than not, avoiding honoring our taste buds in the name of “health” usually backfires. We’re still left with that vague craving, which can lead us to continue searching for foods to quell it, or to bingeing on the original food when finally faced with it. And that’s why the satisfaction factor is so crucial to becoming an intuitive eater.
Satisfaction is so important to the whole eating experience, that you can most certainly feel full but not satisfied after a meal. And just what exactly encompasses this intuitive eating principle in achieving food freedom? Keep reading to find out why your pleasure does matter.
Satisfaction factor definition
The definition of satisfaction includes: “an act of satisfying; fulfillment; gratification, the state of being satisfied; contentment, the cause or means of being satisfied”.
In their book, Intuitive Eating, 4th Edition, registered dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch discuss the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs, and how strongly we’re driven by our unmet needs. The sense of deprivation that is the result of unsatisfied needs is so strong, that unless that need is met one way or another, it will continue eating away at us, if you will.
This is what happens when we diet and restrict foods, especially those we love: at some point the body will override any attempts to control our food intake because it needs food to survive-bodies are just that smart!
What is satisfaction in food?
Let’s take this example, which I believe many of us can relate to, of when we’re craving something sweet, like a doughnut. Diet culture and the diet mentality will have us feeling guilty for wanting to eat such a “sinful” food.
So, health conscious folx that we are, we decide to try to satisfy that craving with something “healthy”. I mean, that’s what we’ve been taught, right?
So we go for a granola bar: somewhat sweet, crunchy and sometimes filling. But something’s missing. The need for that particular type of food (the doughnut, in this case) is still swimming around in the back our minds, and we can’t seem to shake it off.
Next, we reach for another “healthy” option, such as apple chips. But still the need is not really met. We keep trying out other “sweet but nutritious” options, and what we end up doing is eating much more than we intended to (bypassing fullness cues), feeling guilty since the food police in our heads will chastise us for eating “so much”, and possibly angry with ourselves for even having these cravings in the first place!
How do I find my satisfaction factor in intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating teaches us that we can enjoy all foods, without the need for “healthy” substitutions or shame for craving and/or eating them. When we approach food from this place of freedom, when we don’t attach any moral meaning to food (ie, “good foods”, “bad foods”), and when we allow ourselves to experience the pleasure that food can give us, we can just eat the darned doughnut, enjoy it, and go about the rest of our day! No muss, no fuss.
In fact, we are meant to get satisfaction from food. It’s the only way to ensure we’ll keep eating it in order to, oh I dunno, stay alive?
Satisfying a need for particular food is just one of the ways this wiring works. In fact, satisfying the craving with the actual food tends to lead to not having to eat so much of it to feel satisfied.
As this research paper investigated, “Hedonic-based [pleasure-based] attitudes toward food seem to drive healthier food choices in children compared with nutrition-based attitudes in this particular eating context. These findings suggest that pleasure from eating might be an ally with regard to healthy eating among children”.
Allowing ourselves the pleasure of eating frees us from food obsessions, which gives us more time to actually nurture ourselves in a way that promotes our health and wellbeing.
Discover the satisfaction factor (what we can learn from other cultures)
As human beings, we are programmed to seek pleasure and avoid pain. It’s the most primitive part of the human nervous system. The need to eat, therefore, goes hand in hand with seeking the pleasure of food and avoiding the pain of hunger.
It’s interesting that in the Western culture, we seem to have a problem with allowing ourselves to have a pleasurable eating experience. The satisfaction factor is often sacrificed for the sake of diet culture, of hectic lifestyles that don’t allow mindful eating and “the framing of food and eating in primarily negative terms, thereby ignoring the social and cultural functions of the pleasurable aspects of food and eating”, as this research paper very well explains it.
Hedonic eating and health in other countries
In France and other European and Mediterranean countries, food is celebrated and enjoyed, not moralized or feared. The “French in particular prefer to savor food without indulging in overeating, as this paper points out.
“The French approach to food is to eat all types of food, slowly, conversing while eating, drinking wine with dinner and never without food. Americans engage in low calorie diets featuring restriction of various types of food, and, when the restriction becomes too difficult, going in the opposite direction and eating too much,” according to the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
Similarly, many of the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet comes from the social aspect of sharing meals with others and socializing while eating.
In their book Intuitive Eating, 4th edition, the authors also mention how “the Japanese also promote pleasure as one of their goals of healthy eating. ‘Make all activities pertaining to food and eating pleasurable ones’ is one of their dietary guidelines for health promotion”.
I love how Tribole and Resch point out that for many in the Western hemisphere, pleasure is often tied to feelings of guilt and wrongdoing, possibly related to the strong puritanical roots and traditions of self denial this society sits upon. “Dieting and rigid food plans play right into the puritanical ethic-make sacrifices, settle for less”.
Interestingly, reports from the United Nations and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) indicate that Japan, Korea, and France are countries with the lowest heart disease rates.
The American Heart Association informs us that “At least 48 percent of all adults in the United States have some form of cardiovascular disease, according to the latest statistics provided by the American Heart Association”. We may have extensive knowledge of dieting and unlimited access to “diet food”, yet sadly this does not translate into health.
Allowing pleasure and satisfaction into our eating experience does not lead to loss of control around food. On the contrary, when one is satisfied and comfortably full, honoring hunger and fullness signals, it usually takes less amount of food to satisfy us, and we start learning to trust our bodies like never before.
Why do I feel full but not satisfied?
I’ve heard this countless times. And it mostly boils down to not allowing the satisfaction factor to operate. And how do you allow more pleasure and satisfaction in your eating behaviors? Here, awareness and mindfulness are key.
You see, you can’t receive pleasure unless you are aware that you are engaging in it. So, if you’re eating food and you’re not paying attention due to:
- Watching TV
- Scrolling through your phone
- Or otherwise distracted
you will potentially miss the experience of pleasure. And, if you do not get the pleasure that you seek, the brain often interprets that missed experience of pleasure as hunger. You’ll want more food since you’re not getting the full experience. We are left either feeling hungry, or full but not satisfied.
What does satisfaction feel like? 5 steps to discovering the satisfaction factor
I n this section, I’ll walk you through the 5 steps from Intuitive Eating, 4th edition, that will help you get back the pleasure that’s inherent in the eating experience. Does it take time and effort to unlearn diet rules and to shush the food police? Of course! But is it worth it? You bet!
- Ask yourself what you really want to eat: Dieting, especially when it’s been done for awhile, disconnects us from not only our inner hunger and fullness signals, but also from what we actually enjoy eating as well. If this is you, a helpful activity you can do is experiment with different foods (granting yourself unconditional permission to eat any foods), and start learning about what you like and don’t like. No judgments allowed! You’ll soon start to see that by allowing yourself to eat foods you actually like, you can be satisfied with less than you thought, since that deprivation driven impulse won’t be present. It also helps you be more attuned to your hunger and fullness signals.
- Discover the pleasure of the palate: Being mindful and present during meals can help you get better acquainted with the sensual qualities of food. Next time you sit down for a meal, try to notice the following characteristics of the food:
- Taste: Is the food sweet, salty, spicy, umami, bitter, sour, bland? Is this taste experience pleasant or not? Why? The more you get attuned to your likes, the more you’ll learn about how to properly nourish your own body.
- Texture: How does the food feel in your mouth as you eat it? Does it feel crunchy, smooth, liquid, dry, creamy, chewy? How does that particular texture make you feel? Does it feel pleasurable or off-putting?
- Aroma: Aroma plays an important part in whether we derive satisfaction and pleasure from a food or not. Try to notice the different aromas of you food, and how it makes you feel in regards to wanting to eat this particular food or not.
- Appearance: One of my very first nutrition classes in college taught us about the importance of food appearing pleasing to the eye, especially when considering color and texture combinations. How does the visual appeal of your meal influence your satisfaction? Are the colors pleasing and exciting? Although not every eating experience is expected to cue the visual fireworks, experimenting with different colors and textures can definitely improve the satisfaction factor.
- Temperature: Explore what food temperatures do you enjoy the most. Some people love a plate of piping hot food, while others enjoy a more temperate climate for their taste buds. I often get teased about drinking my water at room temperature instead of cold, but that’s just the way I like it, and there’s nothing wrong with that!
- Volume or filling capacity: Heavy, filling foods and airy, lighter foods are some factors to consider when asking ourselves what we want to eat. Depending on how you’re feeling on a particular day, one type of food may be more appealing than others. And that’s OK; we’re dynamic, constantly changing creatures, and the fact that this reflects on our food preferences is completely normal. And don’t forget that we’re all different as well, and that is also reflected in what we chose to eat and enjoy.
- Make your eating experience more enjoyable: As we saw above, many other cultures take their time with their meals in order to savor them and obtain the most satisfaction. Racing through your meals or eating while distracted prevents us from fully experiencing our food. Start experimenting with simple techniques such as these during your next meal:
- Sitting down at the table to eat, especially in a pleasant, calm environment
- Taking deep breaths to relax before eating, and avoid eating while tense or stressed when possible
- Paying attention to the characteristics and sensations of the food: color, texture, temperature, aroma, flavors. Really savor your food
- Feeling your fullness as you eat by pausing between bites.
- Don’t settle: Tribole and Resch advise us that “you are not obligated to finish eating a food just because you took a bite of it”. Yes, this means sending food back at the restaurant or finding something else in the refrigerator. Trying to force yourself into eating something that’s just not palatable to you, no matter how “healthy” it is, only disconnects you from honoring what you truly want. This can eventually seep into other areas of our lives as well. As the authors themselves recommend: “If you don’t love it, don’t eat it, and if you love it, savor it”.
- Check in: does it still taste good?: Checking in with yourself during your meals not only attunes you better to your fullness cues, but to your satisfaction factor as well. Try rating the taste pleasure you get during the first bites of food (for example, using a 1 to 5 ratings, 1 being highly unpleasant and 5 being highly pleasurable). Do this again halfway through your meal, and the again at the end. If the taste ratings drop drastically, consider stopping eating, waiting until you’re really hungry, or choosing a different food. It may seem like a tedious exercise, but reconnecting with yourself will get easier with time and practice.
So in essence, with practice and awareness, you will find that you can learn to increase your food satisfaction each time. This will help you to have eating experiences that you want to have again, which is a way of treating our bodies in a way that shows them respect and self-care.
If you start practicing these steps, you’ll start noticing the nuances of your food preferences, and feeling more in tune with what your body wants and needs. This increased awareness, in turn, will help you return to the intuitive eater you were born to be. Give yourself that chance!
Hi! I’m Melissa, Registered Dietitian and mother of two dragons. When I’m not talking nutrition you can find me rolling around the floor with my kids, sewing, crafting, cooking or missing the 90s (seriously, music just isn’t the same). Read More…