Intuitive Eating: Discovering the Satisfaction Factor

Tuesday, May 30  •  


Lauren McCullam

How many times have you been scrolling though social media or other websites and seen a tag line similar to this, “10 Foods You Should Never Eat,” or “Seemingly Healthy Foods that are Bad for you?” Unfortunately, we live in a society where nutrition misinformation is flowing at us from every side. Celebrities and articles tout the latest trends in diet and exercise, labeling foods as “good” or “bad” with the idea of “eat like this, look like me.” Such nutrition information is often unreliable and downright dangerous. A study published in the Journal of Experiential Social Psychology points to the potential downfalls of appearance-driven diets. The research suggests that a focus on appearance reduces a person’s reliance on satiety cues, or feelings of fullness.

At Avalon Hills, we want our clients to get to a point where they are able to eat intuitively. This means that they are listening to their biological cues of hunger and satiety and building a healthy relationship with food. We follow the principles found in the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. One concept of intuitive eating is to discover the satisfaction factor. According to Tribole and Resch, satisfaction is the hub of intuitive eating and the driving force of intuitive eating.

What does “discovering the satisfaction factor” actually mean?

If a meal is truly satisfying, you could say it “hit the spot.” If someone is caught in the diet mentality, they will not allow themselves to indulge in a food they are in the mood for because they, or their favorite fitness blogger, may have already labeled that as a “bad food.” That person may find themselves digging through the pantry looking for more to eat, even when physically full, not realizing that they are not satisfied.

How do we become truly satisfied after a meal or snack?


Step 1: Ask yourself what you really want to eat

Identify where your food choices are coming from. They could be coming from the “food police” which would tell you not to eat certain foods because of perceived nutritional qualities. Notice what you are in the mood for and aim for balance and variety while honoring your cravings. Remember, satisfaction is key!

Step 2: Discover the pleasures of the palate

Find out which sensory qualities you are craving. Think about the taste of the food, the texture, aroma, appearance, temperature, volume or filling capacity. If it is cold outside, a warm bowl of soup might fit the bill. If it is hot outside, a popsicle or something light may be just what you need! Allow yourself to explore the options available and try to have fun with it.

Step 3: Make your eating experience more enjoyable

Sit down at the table and have a set time for eating. Try to avoid distractions while eating so you can be more mindful. Eating on the run or with distractions will take you away from being able to tune in with your body’s internal cues for hunger and satiety. Eating should be an enjoyable experience. Allow yourself to savor the foods you enjoy. Part of eating mindfully is noticing feelings that come up for you (either positive or negative) and continuing without judgement. When someone has avoided a once enjoyable food for so long, a fear may develop. Challenging a fear food can be difficult, but eventually our patients find that they are able to enjoy many previously avoided foods again.

Step 4: Check in: Does it still taste good?

Food will taste the best when you are mildly hungry. Check in with yourself throughout the meal or snack and ask yourself if the food still tastes as good as when you started eating. If it doesn’t you have probably reached what the authors of Intuitive Eating call the “last-bite threshold.” Remember you can always go back for more later.

Is Intuitive Eating a realistic option for people with eating disorders whose biological hunger/fullness cues may not be reliable or even present in some cases? Absolutely! It is a process that takes practice in order to really listen to our bodies and honor our preferences, but I feel it is one of the most exciting things in the recovery process. If you are working towards building a better relationship with food, consider trying these steps for at least one meal or snack a day until it becomes a habit. You may find this practice to be just what you needed to gain more pleasure from eating.