Psycological vs physical fullness

I believe there are two types of fullness – one is psychological and the other is physical. And you can’t 100% feel one without the other.

I’m not sure if this concept applies to all people, maybe some people just eat , feel full, and go on to whatever else they were doing. But I’d dare say anyone that has struggled with disordered eating, or followed a strict diet or regimented eating will know what I’m talking about.

Physical fullness is simply signals your brain sends to your body when you’ve eaten enough. It’s regulated by sensors in your brain which react to the level of sugar in your blood and other such biological markers. But it is possible to eat your “fill” and still not feel full. Imagine this – you’re sitting at a table where everyone else is eating your favorite dish. You, on the other hand, have a huge bowl of lettuce in front of you. You may eat the entire bowl and your body might give you signals that you are “full” (as hard as that might be to accomplish with just a bowl of lettuce) but you will still not be satisfied. Chances are you’ll still feel like you could eat at least a bit of what everyone else is eating. That’s because you’re not psychologically full.

Chances are, this is how you’ll feel

Psychological fullness comes when you’ve not only physically eaten enough, but mentally taken time to savor the food , enjoy the experience of eating – notice the flavors, the presentation , the atmosphere surrounding the meal. You leave the table feeling satisfied with the process of eating – you haven’t just given your body what it needs, but your mind as well.

Sometimes a small portion of something you really enjoy will be enough to satisfy you

One thing that I’ve struggled with in the past is finding the balance between satisfying my body and my mind. In the past I always focused on my body – eating the cleanest, most unprocessed foods  , “healthifying” any and all desserts and sticking to a very regemented list of foods that were “healthy”. The result – very rarely was I satisfied after a meal – I often felt like I could eat more. So I would either walk around the whole day psycologically “hungry” and constantly thinking about my next meal, or would keep eating my “safe foods” trying to satisfy my craving. But I’m sure as you well know – no amount of spinach (no matter how tasty) will satify a craving for chocolate. It just doesn’t work that way. As a result I would actually physically “overeat” and feel bad and guilty afterwards.

Psychological fullness often comes with a slight feeling of guilt for me, because it usually means indulging in something a little bit “special”. It’s almost like I’m afraid of enjoying my food too much, because I might like the experience so much I won’t want to stop eating. I know this is the most illogical, irrational reasoning in the world – but that the kind of lies my ED tries to pop into my head.

As I’ve been experimenting with just intuitively eating and banning ALL my food rules, I’ve had a mixture of experiences. Some days I’ll be craving a treat – so I’ll just grab a candy or something. I’ll eat it and STILL not feel satisfied – because I wanted something quality, like dark chocolate.  So it just wasn’t worth it to eat it. However  if I’m craving ice-cream for instance, I know it’s not worth it to try to eat yogurt and fruit, because no matter how much I eat – it won’t be the same. And it might be “healthier” but in the long run – life isn’t ALL about being healthy.

Today I struck the illusive balance between psychological and physical fullness. We have a family tradition of making crêpes/pancakes on Saturday and having a crêpe feast. I of course – never took part – at least not till now. This morning I woke up early, made the batter and fried the crêpes. Then I sat down with the rest of my family and ate 2 large crêpes with ricotta cheese and cherry jam. Then I ate another 1/2 because it was so good. Did I really need that extra bit – physically I probably could have been ok without it. But I know I would have been craving a bit more all morning. So I did what I wanted and let myself have as much as I WANTED, not as much as I NEEDED. Was I full – yes I was, but the fullness was both psychological and physical. I ate a lot, but after I finished I had no desire to eat anything more. I didn’t have to walk around the kitchen looking longingly at the creps, wishing I could eat just a little more, I was free NOT to think about food and to focus on other things. And it held me over a good 4 hours, so it was worth it.

I think this is an important concept –both for people trying to lose weight, as well as gain weight. It’s not enough just to stuff your gut with junk in order to gain weight, or live off lettuce in order to lose it. Food is fuel, but it’s also enjoyment, it’s an experience, a memory, a pleasure. And guess what – it’s ok to indulge in this simple pleasure in life from time to time. And if you let yourself not only feed your body, but your mind as well – you will reach the effects you want.

What are your thoughts on the matter?



  1. This was a really well thought out post, it really hit home! Something I still struggle with despite being in a much better place with food, is recognising when I am full. I think because I spent so long restricting I now sometimes find it really difficult to stop eating when I am full, equally sometimes I find myself not eating something because I feel like I should be full, even when I’m not.

    I think it’s all about finding the balance. I am sure both of us will get to that with some hard work, some determination and some faith! 🙂

  2. Wow, this post really spoke to me as it’s what I’ve been feeling a lot, too.
    When being inpatient my problem – while everybody else was complaining about the amounts being too large – was to get “full”. Nobody believed me when I said I wasn’t satisfied yet. Dinner was especially hard because I usually have a big bowl of creamy and comforting oat bran with almond butter. Being forced to eat bread for dinner in the clinic never left me feel satisfied. I was glad – and able to gain! – when finally being back home.

    Congrats on being able to allow yourself to have that extra bit of food you felt like. I’ll try to use you as an inspiration the next time I’m in a “crêpe situation” (though it might not be crêpes for me)!

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