Whenever I embarked on an attempt to change my body in the past, I tried to figure out how to make my meals and snacks lower in calories. That’s what I was taught-eat less and you’ll lose weight and life will be grand! In many instances, I was trying to “save up” for later so I could enjoy a dessert or a night out with friends or my favorite family foods at an upcoming holiday meal. (Pssst- you can do that any time, no matter what you ate earlier!) When I went out to eat, I looked for what had a certain number or calories or seemed “healthy,” rather than choosing what I wanted.
Eating less for the purposes of manipulating my body was not something I could maintain long term, for many reasons. For one, I don’t have the power to control my weight-we all have a set point weight range that our body will fight to stay in. Another point, and what I want to talk about today, is that it wasn’t satisfying. I was eating what I thought I should eat and leaving off foods to make my meals be lower on the calorie scoreboard rather than eating foods and meals that were satisfying to me.
Satisfaction is a different from fullness, and here’s the best way I can explain it. If I ate a large bowl of plain raw veggies, I would probably feel full. But would I be satisfied? Unless I was really just craving a bowl of plain raw veggies, probably not. (Put some ranch dressing on there and then we can talk!) Some foods are extremely satisfying but not filling. As I’m typing this, I just finished a Reese’s Christmas tree that was satisfying, but small and not filling. That’s fine-sometimes I just want a little snack! In general, though, I think about eating foods that are filling and satisfying when I’m hungry. The epitome of a satisfying food experience is finishing the meal and going, “that hit the spot!”
Eating unsatisfying foods day after day left me feeling empty and unhappy. I spent the time until my next meal or snack thinking about food rather than getting on with my day with a full tummy. It also made me want my off-limits foods even more, so when finally I ate them I felt like I had no control. Eating less earlier in the day to “save up” for dinner or a treat just made me hyper-aware of the fact that I wasn’t getting to eat what I wanted. Plus, it obviously made me hungrier so I often ended eating more than some app on my phone told me I could eat and then I felt guilty. I wasn’t giving my body adequate nourishment-no wonder it found a way to get it later on!
Instead of approaching meals or snacks wondering, “How can I make this less in ___” nowadays I ask myself, “What could I eat that would be satisfying?” I want my food to taste good, and I don’t want to be hungry in an hour. Of course, that happens sometimes, but in general I want to be able to eat, enjoy it, and then have enough fuel to get through the next few hours doing what I need to do. To me, this is a much healthier way to approach food.
Satisfying meals for me involve carbs, fat, and protein. Oh yeah, they all come to the party! I’m not saying that every single meal has to have all 3 or else I’ve failed. Of course not! But in general, I know if I’m missing one at a meal I probably won’t be satisfied.
Yeah yeah, that’s all great in theory, but what does it look like? I’m glad you asked! One of our favorite easy meals is tilapia, rice, and broccoli. After eating that a few times and realizing I was STARVING an hour later, I started adding feta cheese on top of my fish. The meal was lacking in fat and I just didn’t feel like “that meal hit the spot.” Adding feta made it more filling, and having another food on the plate that I enjoy made it more satisfying. Similarly, when I make my favorite chunky lentil and vegetable soup, I always pair it with bread. Sure, I could eat enough soup to feel full, but without bread to dunk in my soup it’s just not as satisfying.
When I go out to eat, now I order what I actually want. If I want grilled nuggets at Chick-fil-A, I get those. If a spicy chicken sandwich sounds more satisfying, I get that. The beauty of it is that I have options- I don’t have to pick what has the lowest calories. I do my best to not even look at that information so it can’t influence my decision. Even if I do notice it, I try to brush it off and remember that picking the unsatisfying choice is, well, unsatisfying. I know I’ll spend the rest of the day thinking about food and going snack to snack to fill the void. Sometimes I’ll be like, “This only has X calories!? That will not be satisfying to me! Better get something more filling or order something to go with it.”
You might be thinking- “If I find pleasure and satisfaction in my food, I don’t think I’ll ever stop eating.” I understand. So often we are told that foods that are tasty are the enemy, or will make us gain weight which would obviously be the worst thing ever (major sarcasm!). Diets don’t leave too much room for autonomy, and they often make you settle for less-than-stellar food experiences. However, deprivation is a key contributor to backlash eating. This is what I was talking about earlier. I would restrict during the day, or over time, and eventually I would say “Screw it, I’m hungry, I’m eating all the food.” Usually I ended up with a stomach ache and feeling even less confident about eating.
Figuring out what foods are satisfying to me has been a really fun part of my Intuitive Eating journey. (Side note: of course I didn’t make the switch in mindset overnight! It took time to ditch the diet mentality and give myself permission to eat all foods. But it is worth it!) I discovered I need all 3 macronutrients at a meal to be satisfied, and keeping this in mind helps me plan meals I’ll really enjoy. If I plan a meal that’s lacking in one area for whatever reason, I’ll have a snack on hand for later. Fulfilling cravings and eating the real thing rather than trying to shop around for a replacement or “healthy” version is also very satisfying.
Of course, what is satisfying to me may not be to you, and what is satisfying to me tomorrow may be different than today! That’s the fun and empowering thing about Intuitive Eating. You already have all of the answers to how to best nourish yourself and be satisfied in your choices-you just have to get curious and tap into your inner wisdom and find out. You deserve to enjoy all of life’s pleasures, and that includes eating foods you find satisfying and pleasurable.