What You Can Learn From Eating Past Fullness

Apr 19, 2018

Earlier this week I bought, opened, and finished a full-size bag of Zapp’s Voodoo flavor potato chips all on the same day. While I didn’t eat the chips in one fell swoop (it was two fell swoops, actually), I definitely ate past a level of comfortable fullness for me that day.

The chips were so delicious that before long I noticed I was getting pretty close to the bottom of the bag. I wasn’t particularly hungry anymore and I considered stopping, but I decided not to. Even though I finished the bag, I didn’t go into a shame spiral. That’s because I’ve spent a lot of time working on my relationship with food, and I know that there is a lot you can learn from eating past fullness.

Shohreh is holding a bag of Zapp's voodoo flavor potato chips in front of her face, covering her from the nose down, while she contemplates what she can learn from eating past fullness

How We Respond to Eating Past Fullness Matters More Than How Much We Ate

When you eat past fullness, it can feel all-consuming both during and after. We are centered on eating the food until the food is gone. Then, once it’s gone and we realize why it’s gone, we usually become centered on how awful we feel, both physically and mentally.

This can lead to:

  • Beating ourselves up with negative self-talk and allowing ourselves to drown in guilt or shame;
  • Calculating out the calories or macros of what we ate in despair;
  • Restricting our food intake the day after to “balance out” what we ate; or
  • Punishing ourselves with exercise to “burn off” the offending food.

There was once a time when I would have done all of the above, but I’ve come a long way from the shaming and blaming food mentality of my past.

The truth is, how we respond to eating past fullness matters more than how much we ate. We all eat more than feels good in our bodies sometimes! The key is to shift your thinking from it being a shameful secret and toward it being an opportunity to learn more about your behaviors.

In fact, every time we eat past fullness we are giving ourselves the gift of data that we can get curious about and learn from in a nonjudgmental way.

Approach Your Eating With Curiosity And Self-Compassion

Understandably, when you’re knee-deep in cheese or cupcakes it can be difficult to imagine what lessons might be hidden in the aftermath and empty wrappers. However, if every time you ate too much you viewed the experience as a learning opportunity instead of a failure, you would discover a lot about yourself and your relationship with food in the process.

Remember – your body is incredibly smart. You’re not eating past fullness as a way of torturing yourself. You’re doing so because it’s serving you in some way! And investigating further can help you figure out how.

The next time you find yourself eating with no end in sight, try some of these practices and see how it changes the experience for you*:

1. Slow down. The out-of-control nature of eating past fullness comes from going on autopilot and eating the food as quickly as possible without really feeling or tasting any of it. Slowing down, even just a little bit at first, can make for a very different experience. Try to chew more slowly and put your utensils or the piece of food down in between bites. Focus on the sensation of the food on your tongue, trying to truly taste it (and even enjoy it!).

2. Check in with yourself. Bring awareness to a food frenzy by continuing to check in with yourself while you’re eating. How do you physically feel? What is your mental state? Are you meeting a physical hunger need or a different kind of need? Are you full or close to it? Does the food taste as good as you thought it would? Maybe even take notes or write about what you’re experiencing in a journal.

A woman staring out the window while journaling about what she had learned from overeating and holding a pencil

3. Embrace self-compassion. After you have recognized that you’re experiencing an episode of eating past fullness, be kind and gentle with yourself. Try to redirect negative self-talk to self-talk that is more neutral or positive.

If you find yourself thinking something like, “I am such an idiot. I can’t believe I ate that entire cake. I’m a failure,” you might redirect your thoughts to something like, “While I’m upset with myself for eating the cake, I know that eating the cake served a purpose for me, and what I eat does not determine my intelligence or self-worth.”

Further, don’t punish yourself after the fact by restricting food or forcing yourself to exercise as punishment. Responding with restriction and food rules will only get you stuck in the restrict-binge cycle.

4. Be the scientist and gather data. The best time to gather information about what triggers eating past fullness for you is while you’re overeating and right after. Some things you might think about include:

  • What was going on around you?
  • Were you experiencing any heightened emotions?
  • Were you experiencing any particular physical sensations?
  • What and how much did you eat during the day before your eating felt out of control?
  • Were you satisfied with the foods you ate prior to eating past fullness?
  • How much did you move that day?

Over time you will be able to spot patterns, which may help you think of changes you could make to lessen the impact when you find yourself wanting to eat past fullness.

*Please note that these steps are intended to help those whose eating behavior does not amount to a psychological disorder such as binge eating disorder or bulimia, both of which are conditions that require treatment by medical and mental health professionals. If you think you might have an eating disorder, there is help available.

Your Mind And Body Can Be Great Teachers If You’re Willing To Listen

While eating past fullness can easily make you feel powerless, utilizing the above strategies will help you reconnect with your body and feel more in your power. Our bodies are incredibly wise, and when we strengthen the connection between our mind and body we can learn a lot.

Don’t worry if you try some of these tactics and they don’t feel like a slam dunk at first. If you consistently use these tools, eating past fullness will start to feel a lot less scary over time. And if you’re still feeling a disconnect, reach out! I coach women every day on how to intuitively tune back into their bodies in order to more fully discover their wants and needs around food, exercise, and more.

Woman with purple hair eating sour gummy candies from a bowl

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