Part of the Eating with Intention Series

Principle VI: Discovering the Satisfaction Factor

How many times have you found yourself choosing to eat something because it was the “lesser of two evils” vs. making a choice about what you really wanted—choosing what would truly satisfy you in that moment? Choosing a chocolate flavored rice cake instead of a chocolate chunk cookie? Choosing carrots instead of cheese? You get the picture.

Let’s use an analogy that might help. Have you ever wanted a full-pressured steaming hot shower? Now, eating a rice cake in place of a chocolate chunk cookie is like having this desire, but instead, purposefully turning the faucet on half way and taking a lukewarm, weakly pressured shower. Imagine the dissatisfaction. It’s still a shower, it still gets the job of taking a shower done, but doesn’t even come close to what you were looking for. In fact, it’s a little frustrating, because it becomes more, well, like a task or a chore. It doesn’t provide the element of satisfaction you were after—and you feel it.

And so maybe you’ve made a habit of this with food. Instead of choosing what you really want, you’ll find a substitute that suits your diet plan. This, again, will get the job done, in a mechanical, controlled way, but will often leave you still thinking about the food you didn’t get—like the shower you didn’t get.

Now, this lack of satisfaction might lead us to a familiar habit, or what Tribole and Resch refer to as “being on the prowl” or being caught in the midst of a “frustrating food chase.” It is at those moments or even several hours later, where you’re now physically full of rice cakes and proud of skipping the chocolate chunk cookie but you’re not yet satisfied. So instead you go on searching and scrounging for something else to hit the spot.

Ever been there?

Now what happens if we just eat the chocolate chunk cookie? Tribole and Resch assert confidently with over 20 years of work and research experience:

“When you allow yourself pleasure and satisfaction from every possible eating experience your total quantity of food will decrease.”

Meaning, you will naturally begin to eat in a regulated quantity that meets the natural demands of your body. Satisfaction won’t leave you “wanting” like depriving does.

If you’ve been following along this series, you’ll remember the bit about basic principles of deprivation. If one aim of intuitive eating is to think of deprivation as a don’t, we can think of pursuing satisfaction as a do.

In 1999, a study was organized to understand the way food functions psychologically in the minds of people from four different cultures: the U.S.A., Japan, Flemish-Belgium, and France. One area of focus was determining the extent to which each culture experienced food as a stressor vs. a pleasure. Not surprisingly, they found that Americans were overwhelmingly more concerned about “bad foods” worried, about their diets, and the least connected to food as a pleasurable culinary experience. Not surprisingly again, the French on the other hand scored on the opposite side of the spectrum—meaning they were most connected to not only enjoying food as pleasurable, but focusing on the health benefits of say, a glass of wine, vs. the detriments of salt, butter, and cream—all of which Americans showed lots of concern and negative associations with.

So when you’re standing in your kitchen battling it out in your mind about what to eat, it’s not just about your thoughts. We are a culture fraught with fear about food, and fear doesn’t pair well with satisfaction. More directly, fear can keep us in the black and white thinking that keeps us from balanced, moderate pleasurable experiences with food.

For some of us this fear is further influenced by experiences where we’ve felt out of control with food. Our impulse reaction, of course, is to rein it all in, scale back, become restrictive, and thereby minimize satisfaction—we continue chasing our tails.

Practicing satisfaction through intuitive eating involves claiming our right for pleasurable food experiences. It means tuning in with intentionality as we make food choices and asking ourselves what we truly feel like eating. It means pausing to gauge where we’re at on the hunger and fullness scale to notice if we’re over-hungry, almost full, or somewhere in between. It means noticing tastes, textures, temperatures, and eating in a pleasant environment (when possible).

Keep in mind that it would be unrealistic to assume we can make every single food choice a highly satisfying culinary experience. Sometimes your leftovers for lunch are just your leftovers for lunch. Yet, if we continue to work toward a balance of pursuing satisfaction as a goal we’ll begin to slowly reduce our diet mentality toward food and experience food as it is truly meant to be—with more pleasure, less stress and less judgment.

If you’re interested in learning about more principles of intuitive eating, check back for more of this weekly article series.

Tribole, E, Resch, E. Intuitive Eating. New York: St. Martins Griffin 2015. Print
Tribole, E, Resch, E. The Intuitive Eating Workbook. California New Harbinger Publications 2017. Print
P.Rozin, C. Fischler, S. Imada, A. Sarubin, and A.Wrzesniewksi, (1999) Attitudes to Food and the Role of Food in Life in the U.S.A., Japan, Flemish Belgium and France: Possible Implications for the Diet–Health Debate. Appetite, Vol. 33, no.163–180

Get these helpful articles in your inbox.