I feel really lucky to have been a guest blogger on my South Dakota friend Amanda Lambrechts’ blog Spilling the Beans! She is putting her spin on the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating, so I took on Principle #5- Honoring Your Fullness.
During my time as a breastfeeding counselor, I learned a lot about honoring fullness- babies are expert teachers on this topic.
Super stoked to have people like Amanda out there spreading the word about intuitive eating and health at every size. Check out her blog or her Instagram for more info about the 10 Principles, as well as some great recipes.
Back in 2016 when I underwent training to become a Certified Lactation Counselor, one of the first concepts I learned was the importance of feeding on demand. In plain terms, this means feeding infants when they are hungry and stopping when they are full- and can apply to both breastfed and formula-fed infants.
Here’s how it works: If an infant is moving their hands or fists into their mouth, making sucking noises, or moving their arms and legs and whimpering, these are cues they may be hungry and should be offered a feeding. On the other hand, if they close their mouth, stop sucking, or turn away from a feeding, these are cues they could be full.1 Even the tiniest of newborns can communicate these hunger and fullness cues to their caregivers, which is pretty cool!
With the exception of pre-term infants or infants with certain medical conditions2, knowing exactly when, how much, and for how long to eat is an innate knowingness that infants are born with—that we are ALL born with!
However, for an infant caregiver or parent who may be accustomed to feeding based on portion sizes and food rules, feeding on demand can look very irregular. If fed on demand, some infants may do something called “cluster feeding”, where they want to eat every hour for a number of hours (eating more than you could imagine!)- then go many hours without wanting to feed at all. Unfortunately, clinicians taught by conventional diet culture may also see this type of feeding as abnormal, and may prescribe feeding certain amounts at certain times.
But on a regimented schedule, infants are forced to eat when they are full and refused food when they are hungry.3 Besides not allowing them to trust their innate biology, enforcing this structured feeding can lead to an infant developing side effects like reflux, gassiness, colic, or even rapid or slowed growth. When this happens, a caregiver may want to stop breastfeeding altogether, in favor of some “special” formula to relieve their infant’s “symptoms”- which may never have never have existed in the first place had they fed according to their infant’s hunger fullness cues.4,5
Why I’m bringing this up is to point out that for so many of us, our ability to honor our fullness is skewed before we are even able to walk. And even if you were fed on demand as an infant, chances are your internal regulation may have been skewed as you went through childhood. Clean plate club anyone?
We are taught from a young age that we cannot trust our bodies to know how much to eat. Diet culture tells us there is one recommended portion size for each food, and that this portion size should be used for all people. That’s kind of crazy, considering how different everyone is physically, mentally, and metabolically. Portion sizes have nothing to do with how you should eat. How you eat should be determined by what makes you feel good, and honoring your hunger and fullness.
Trying to find what fullness means for us can be a struggle. I hear you on that. Many of us may have no idea what comfortable satiety looks like. Sure, we may know what it feels like to overeat and be stuffed, but actually feeling full eludes us. A big reason why I named my blog Feeling Full Nutrition is because I want to help people to know what it feels like to feel a sense of joy and satisfaction after a meal. Even if this seems like a far-off dream for you, it is something you can do, because you were born knowing how.
First, take the blame off yourself for having difficulty feeling your fullness. This is not a personal character flaw. I hope from this post, you’ve learned that diet culture, portion sizes, and feeding schedules are instilled in us from a young age. Its something that’s been drilled into you. Know that you can and will unlearn this.
Secondly, learn what comfortable fullness actually feels like. Here are some descriptions by clients of the authors of the Intuitive Eating Book:
- A subtle feeling of stomach fullness
- Feeling satisfied and content
- Nothingness- neither hungry nor full6
The sensation is unique to everyone, and is difficult to describe. The authors of Intuitive Eating even compare it to describing what snow feels like- you can describe it endlessly, but you have to feel it yourself to truly know.
Once you have thought about this, work on conscious eating to develop a comfortable fullness level for yourself. Here are some ways to do that:
- Pause in the middle of a snack or meal to check in with yourself. Check in with how your body and taste buds feel. Does the food taste good? Or are you eating it just because it is there? Does your body feel comfortable? Are you still feeling physically hungry? Are you beginning to feel physically full?
- Don’t feel obligated to leave food on your plate, or finish it all. As chronic dieters or chronic members of the clean plate club, this can be difficult. But instead of thinking about how much you are eating, be fully present with the sensations in your body to tell you when you are finished.
- Whenever do you finish eating, ask yourself where you are with your fullness. You may want to use the scale back from principle number two.
Remember to be patient with yourself and know that this is a process. It may take you a long time to get to the point where you feel comfortable feeling your fullness. But remember, you were born knowing how to do this. And even if it may be a feeling buried deep within you, its there.
Here are some journal prompts to work through for the fifth principle.
Special thanks to Amanda for this opportunity!
DiSantis, K, Hodges E, Johnson S, Fisher J. The role of responsive feeding in overweight during infancy and toddlerhood: a systematic review. Int J Obes. 2011;35:480–492.
McCormick F, Tosh K, McGuire W. Ad libitum or demand/semi-demand feeding versus scheduled interval feeding for preterm infants. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;2:138-139.
Fildes A, Cornelia H, van Jaarsveld A, Llewellyn C, Wardle J, Fisher A. Parental control over feeding in infancy. Influence of infant weight, appetite and feeding method. 2015;91:101–106.
Hodge S, Murphy P. Crying Newborns: The colic and reflux situation in New Zealand as depicted by online questionnaires. Int J Community Based Nurs Midwifery. 2014;6(8):97-107.
Ventura AK, Inamdar LB, Mennella JA. Consistency in infants’ behavioural signalling of satiation during bottle-feeding. Pediatr Obes. 2015;10(3):180-7.
Tribole, E. & Resch, E. (2012). Intuitive eating, 3rd edition. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Griffin.
Iacovou M, Sevilla A. Infant feeding: the effects of scheduled vs. on-demand feeding on mothers’ wellbeing and children’s cognitive development. Eur J Public Health. 2013;23(1):13-9.
Rodgers RF, Paxton SJ, Massey R, Campbell KJ, Wertheim EH, Skouteris H, Gibbons K. Maternal feeding practices predict weight gain and obesogenic eating behaviors in young children: a prospective study. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2013;10:24.
Tylka TL, Lumeng JC, Eneli IU. Maternal intuitive eating as a moderator of the association between concern about child weight and restrictive child feeding. 2015;95:158-65.
Lampl M, Johnson M. Infant Growth in Length Follows Prolonged Sleep and Increased Naps. 2011:34(5):641-650.
Brick, N. Ad Libitum or Demand/Semi-demand Feeding Versus Scheduled Interval Feeding for Preterm Infants. Clin Nurse Spec.