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I’m full but I still want more food!

By Michelle May, M.D.

I want to keep eating“I’m frustrated! My stomach is at an 8+ but my mouth is still hungry! I know I’m not physically hungry, but I want a certain mouth feel – crunchy and salty specifically. The meal I made was tasty and filling, so how come I’m full but I still want more food?”

This great question recently came in from our Mindful Eating Support Community; it’s common enough to warrant a blog post. (By the way, the “8+” she is referring to is her level of fullness on the Hunger and Fullness Scale. An 8 means she is at the point of discomfort. From chapter 2 of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat.)

Let’s explore five of the most common reasons for feeling full but wanting to keep eating – and ways that mindful eating can help.

Five Reasons You Want to Keep Eating

1. You chose a food that wasn’t what you really wanted.

Satisfaction doesn’t just come from physical fullness but from also fully enjoying the food you choose. You may want to continue eating because you haven’t satisfied your “hedonic hunger” which stems from the anticipation of pleasure from eating. Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating programs teach specific strategies that can help you balance eating for nourishment with eating for enjoyment. Here are a couple of tips:

  • Pause to ask yourself, What do I want? before selecting food. This will help you choose something that is more likely to satisfy your “mouth hunger.”
  • Remember to pause periodically while eating to notice whether you are really enjoying your food and whether it is satisfying the mouth feel you want. It is better to notice when you are a 4 so you can switch to something else without getting too full!
  • If you don’t like what you’re eating and there are no other options, promise yourself that the next time you eat, you will choose something you really like.

2. You ate mindlessly so your brain didn’t get the satisfaction of eating.

Even though your stomach is full, if you were distracted while you were eating, your brain didn’t get to enjoy the food so you may feel unsatisfied. Eating mindfully, paying attention to your food as you eat—including the appearance, textures, aromas, and flavors—helps your brain register pleasure and satisfaction.

3. You were eating something that you don’t ordinarily get to eat.

Fear that you won’t get a particular food again or feelings of deprivation of a certain food can drive overeating. When the food you are eating is truly rare, such as a special food you discover while traveling to a far away place, you may decide that eating more of that food is “worth” feeling uncomfortable. (Remember though that there is a fine line between enjoyment and misery, so you may regret your choice afterward!)

More commonly, people overeat foods that aren’t truly scarce. Perhaps, you are eating at a new restaurant; could you take the rest home and enjoy it again for lunch tomorrow? At a party or potluck, could you ask for the recipe?

Restriction of certain foods for dietary or health reasons can lead to feelings of  deprivation, making it difficult to stop eating. Eating what you love is one of the keys to breaking the eat-repent-repeat cycle!

4. You want to keep eating due to an environmental cue.

Having too much food on your plate, fear of wasting food, getting your money’s worth, all-you-can eat buffets, keeping up with someone else, and dozens of other environmental cues can lead to overeating. Mindfulness helps because when you notice the disconnect between how full you feel and the desire to continue eating, you are able to make a conscious choice to feel good when you are finished.

5. You want to keep eating for emotional reasons.

When a craving doesn’t come from hunger, eating will never satisfy it! This is because eating provides only temporary distraction or comfort; when you eat in response to emotional triggers, the boredom, stress, loneliness, frustration, or other emotion will resurface when you stop eating, driving you to continue eating (or eat again). This is obviously a more challenging problem to address; check out the script in the second video called How to Decode Emotional Eating on this page. If the problem persists or is severe, take this quiz to see if you may be struggling with Binge Eating Disorder.

Your turn!

Why do you sometimes want to keep eating even when you’re full?

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About the author

Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yo-yo dieter and the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs and Training. She is the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle , winner of seven publishing awards. She is also the author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating, and Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery. Michelle shares her compelling message and constructive keynotes with audiences around the country, offers workplace wellness programs, and has trained and licensed hundreds of health professionals to facilitate Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs worldwide. She has been featured on Dr. Oz, the Discovery Health Channel, and Oprah Radio, and quoted in Diabetic Living, Fitness, Health, Huffington Post, Parents, Self, USA Weekend, US News & World Report, WebMD and many others. Her personal success story was published in Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul. Michelle cherishes her relationships with her husband, Owen and grown children, Tyler and Elyse. She regularly enjoys practicing yoga and hiking near her home in Phoenix, Arizona. She and Owen, a professional chef, share a passion for gourmet and healthful cooking, wine tasting, photography, and traveling.

10 Comments

  1. Julie Parrott says:

    or….it tastes so good and you just want more…

    • I shouldn’t have overlooked that one since my husband is a chef and my parents own Mexican restaurants! Mindful eating helps us notice that food tastes the best when we first start eating it. As hunger is satisfied, the bites become less and less flavorful – it is as if we are eating a memory of what it tasted like when we first started! If we continue to eat, we will discover that the pleasure of eating that yummy food is replaced by discomfort or even misery. When we pause to remember that there is a fine line that we will cross that will ruin the enjoyment, it is easier to stop eating and save the rest for another meal so we can enjoy it all over again!

  2. S.M says:

    I have just started this practice of truly taking notice of when, what and why I want to eat. I noticed that I eat often due to environmental triggers and sometimes for fuel. I also discovered that stress and worry/fear are two big reasons I eat when I am not hungry. When I am feeling stressed I want refined carbohydrates and sugar. When I am worried or fearful I want creamy chocolate or ice cream. I am now working on a strategy to look after myself without food during those times. Yet if I really really “want” the food. I will allow myself to have it without guilt and shame.

    • Your awareness of your triggers is an important step. Noticing what you want to eat when you are stressed or worried is helpful because you can use your cravings to decode your mood and your needs. Letting go of guilt and shame breaks the eat-repent-repeat cycle, freeing up your energy to focus on your new strategies for looking after yourself! You are making great progress!

  3. Francesca M. says:

    I struggle with following mindful eating during certain times of the month. I honestly feel like a bottomless pit for a few days leading up to my period. What do you suggest during those times?

    • That used to happen to me too. As I became more mindful, I noticed that I ate a lot less food the rest of the month so I stopped fighting it! Instead, I paid more attention to other self-care measures like more sleep and exercise, a hot bath, a lighter social calendar, and a balance of yummy, satisfying, nutrient-rich foods. Within a few days, things would return to normal. I hope that helps Francesca!

  4. M. A. says:

    I suppose like many people, I have eaten when I was bored, alone, tired, angry, scared, worried, because its “_________ time”, because its there, because you offered, celebrating, etc. I’m sure there is more, but right now I can’t think of any. But not often when I was actually hungry. The first time I ate when I was hungry, there was a 18 hour wait until hunger actually showed up. I was actually shocked. I really did not get hungry for 18 hours. But after that it was pretty regular. I must say that, “life” gets in the way of eating like this for a lifetime. You really need to commit to yourself and remain calm. A ten second pause, standing still for a minute to think, while you check in to yourself to see if your body is hungry or is it my mind? A life long habit of just eating often is hard to break. Carbs don’t make that easier either. And they are every where you go now. Commitment for me is the key. Without my commitment to myself, to my health, I don’t think I would be able to sustain this, as “Life”, gets in the way.

    • Yes Monica, it takes time for eating according to your body’s cues (instead of all the other reasons we want to eat) to feel natural again! Hang in there; I promise that there will come a time when you don’t have to work at it so hard because it just feels better!

  5. Lexie says:

    I realized recently that I feel bad if I take too much food at a buffet and either I didn’t like it or don’t want any more. It wasn’t just about wasting the food it was more like worrying about what the employees would think of that waste. When I really thought about it, I thought, “wait, are you really going to eat more because you’re worried about the restaurant’s profit?” That’s ridiculous! Eating it won’t help anyone! Yes I should try to take less the next time but I should never eat more than I want because of this!

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