Feeling Fulfilled - In Eating and in Life
Most of us, I think, want to feel fulfilled by whatever comprises our days and our lives. We may seek fulfillment through work, friendships, relationships, or family. Or we may seek fulfillment through inputs like art, curling up with a page-turning novel, meditating, enjoying a cup of tea, or gathering together with loved ones for the holidays.
Yet experiencing fulfillment is, itself, a practice. We can watch all the entertainment in the world, we can work harder and longer, but if we don’t learn to experience fulfillment, we’ll never be satisfied.
I want to suggest that mindful eating is an ideal place to appreciate, recognize, and cultivate fulfillment. In mindful eating, we begin a sacred relationship with our bodies' natural hunger signals and cues. With practice we learn to recognize the natural requests for energy from our bodies, from feeling rundown all of a sudden to the spontaneous flash of awareness that it has been eight hours since you’ve eaten last so no wonder you’re beginning to feel cranky.
We also learn to recognize when we are actually full, so we don’t override the natural feeling known as “satiety” (it rhymes with “variety”) when the body has had enough to eat. Just like understanding your true hunger signals, you also can learn the language your body uses to let you know that it is time to stop eating. In fact, being able to stop when you are truly full is one of the biggest eating behavior changes many of us can make. And this understanding extends throughout all of life.
To try this, as you’re eating each bite of food, turn a loving awareness to notice when your stomach is reaching fullness. The more you eat and drink, the more sensations of stomach fullness you will feel. Over time, you can begin to pinpoint the initial feeling of your stomach starting to fill and stretch just a little bit. It’s neither empty due to under-eating nor overstretched due to over-eating. It’s right in the middle. It feels fulfilled with just the right amount of food.
This principle extends to other aspects of mindful eating as well. For example, you can train in noticing “body satiety” due to the increase in blood sugar and other nutrients in the bloodstream. Consider how the body might feel at various points, such as in the middle of a meal, immediately after eating, a half hour later, an hour later, and two hours later. Awareness of when our body feels nourished, satiated, and contented is a signal that we have reached just the right level of body satiety. Finding the middle ground of enoughness is a practice for recognizing our bodies feeling of being fed just enough in that moment.
Another example is taste satiety. With loving awareness, we can recognize when we are perhaps chasing a flavor to the detriment of actually enjoying it. For example, you might be chasing the alluring sweetness of crunching into a date or donut, then the next thing you know you’re six dates or donuts in, and your body isn’t feeling the best with the surge of sugar now pumping through our veins. Or I might be chasing the flavor of my favorite salty snack of potato chips… until I notice that my taste buds have become fatigued after eating that whole bag of chips.
Honoring our bodies’ intuitive senses of fullness leads to recognizing fulfillment in the rest of life as well. Fulfillment is found on your own terms, not what your upbringing, society or even diet culture has told you is enough, too little or too much. And it is found in that same “sweet spot” of just enough, where we feel a sense of inner balance and peace. With mindfulness, we can come to know what just enough feels like in our own body’s spectrum of satiety, fullness and fulfillment. We can learn to recognize and honor the feeling of “not too little, not too much, but just right.”
Amanda Gilbert is a Trained Mindfulness Facilitator with UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center and InsightLA . She is also trainied in Mindfulness-based Eating Awareness Instructor and Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction. Amanda is the author of Kindness Now: A 28-Day Guide to Living with Authenticity, Intention, and Compassion.