Hunger Cues: Physical Fullness vs. Mental Satisfaction

You may be familiar with your hunger cues, but what about your fullness cues?

Of the body’s signs and signals, the fullness cues are often more subtle and slightly more difficult to get in touch with, especially in comparison with their counterpart; hunger cues.

How do you feel your fullness? How do you tell the difference between feeling physically full and mentally satisfied? And why is it important to differentiate between the two?

In today’s article, I’m going to be going over physical fullness vs. mental satisfaction and how to differentiate between the two. Keep reading to learn an intuitive eating dietitian’s perspective on this underrated topic!

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Feeling Physical Fullness vs. Mental Satisfaction

hunger cues: physical fullness vs mental satisfaction with a food freedom dietitian

Let’s paint a picture…

You’ve just had a delicious meal at a new restaurant in town. You enjoyed an appetizer, an entree, maybe even a cocktail, and you’re feeling the familiar sensations of a full belly. Your partner then asks if you want to stop by the ice cream shop a few blocks away.

Although you aren’t feeling any sensations of hunger after your lovely meal, you still feel the pull towards the ice cream shop. You feel a little confused. You should be full by now, why are you still wanting ice cream?

While your body feels physically full, you’re left feeling mentally unsatisfied. In order to learn the difference between the two, let’s first define what the two concepts are.

What is Physical Fullness?

You probably (hopefully) know this feeling well. It is the sensation of fullness in your belly, quelling any hunger pangs you may have had before eating.

When you’ve reached the state of physical fullness, your body is not giving you cues to eat as voraciously as it was when you first began. You may also notice a soft distention in your stomach. Physically, you’ve eaten enough to sustain yourself and may notice a diminished drive to eat. 

Note: Many people mistake slight distention for bloating but this isn’t often the case. Food takes up space outside of your body, it takes up space inside your body as well and slight, non-painful distention is normal!

What is Mental Satisfaction?

Unlike physical fullness, mental satisfaction isn’t as clearly felt in physical sensations. Mental satisfaction is met when you satisfy the flavors, tastes, and textures your body is craving. You don’t have to be experiencing a specific craving, either.

When your food is pleasurable and enjoyable, there is a higher likelihood that you will be able to feel mentally satisfied. Some cues that may point to reaching mental satisfaction could be: diminished taste and pleasure of the food, losing interest in what you’re eating, and decreased thoughts around food or eating.

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The Difference Between Physical Fullness and Mental Satisfaction

Hunger cues: physical fullness vs. mental satisfaction with an intuitive eating dietitian

With the ice cream example from above, it could be a taste-specific hunger (more info on that in this blog post), or it could be the fact that your body needs and wants a little something extra to reach mental satisfaction.

You may be physically full and still want to seek out an additional taste, texture, or flavor. There is a reason desserts exist (oh and aren’t we thankful they do!) because sometimes a contrasting taste and flavor are what your body needs to feel fully satisfied, mentally and physically. 

It is possible (and even common!) to feel physically full without feeling mentally satisfied but having both markers met makes for an ideal eating experience. In this way, satisfaction may be a better gauge for deciding when to stop eating than physical fullness alone. 

Signs you are both physically and mentally satisfied:

  • You are able to walk away from a meal or snack no longer thinking about food. 
  • You aren’t pining for a specific taste or having any cravings.
  • You don’t find yourself grazing after you eat. 
  • Food doesn’t seem as interesting or appealing.
  • If you were offered something additional to eat you would find yourself refusing because you simply don’t want it. 

Hunger Cues and Giving Yourself Permission to Eat: The Takeaway

Rather than worry about how to tune into physical cues of fullness, try focusing on adding delicious, satisfying foods into your diet and limiting restrictions around quantities or certain foods.

You may be surprised when, in allowing yourself unconditional permission to eat, your body in time gives you the cues that lead to balanced, healthy eating.

As opposed to resisting your internal cues and intuition, allowing full body trust helps to guide you towards eating in a way that is enjoyable, sustainable, and mentally and physically satisfying.  

If you are having difficulty putting this into practice in your life, consider checking out our Signature 1:1 Intuitive Eating Program or our Nourished Body Basics Self-Paced Course for more support!

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