The term 'satisfied' gets mixed up with 'full' a lot when it comes to food. The term satisfied has almost been hijacked by the dieting industry to be the term for when you've eaten just enough to not be physically hungry anymore but what does satisfaction REALLY mean when it comes to food? According to the dictionary, satisfaction is:
"Fulfillment of one's wishes, expectations, or needs, or the pleasure derived from this."
So can you be satisfied just because you've eaten enough vegetables to physically fill up your stomach? I would argue probably not but we seem to have the conception for some reason that it's true. I hear from clients all the time that they've eaten veggies and chicken breast and they're full but they just find themselves in the pantry wanting more and they don't know why. It's that feeling when you REALLY wanted the pasta but you were 'being good' so you ordered the salad and you're physically full but you still really want the pasta!
Lot's of people are really harsh on themselves about this. I'll hear statements like "I don't know what's wrong with me, I just ate!" I want to be really clear here, nothing is wrong with you! First of all, that salad might not have given you enough of the nutrients you needed like carbohydrates. I did a big post last week on how our hunger and appetite is regulated, which you can check out here to give you an idea of what is going on. Summary is that it isn't just stretch receptors in your stomach that tell your body when it's had enough, it's also levels of fat, protein, and carbs, along with overall energy in your food.
That's the physiological side of things but let's look at the psychological side of things. The truth is that food is more than just nutrients. Food can be comforting, energizing, and enjoyable! Choosing satisfying foods is the key to this, so what exactly makes a food choice satisfying? The truth is, only you can know what will be satisfying for you!
What makes food satisfying?
Remember the definition of satisfying listed above? Fulfilling wishes, expectations, or needs and the pleasure derived from this?
What that means is only YOU can really know what food is going to be satisfying to you!
I know, I'm a dietitian so you're probably expecting me to tell you exactly what you need to eat in order to be satisfied. I will say that in general, foods that have some fat, protein, and starch help with the physiological side of things (like adding a bun to your salad and chicken) but ultimately, what makes food satisfying is eating what feels good for you.
I'll give you an example of this. When it's cold outside and you're feeling down, a salad, even if its balanced out with some protein, carbs, and fat probably isn't going to be super satisfying. I don't know about you but when it's cold and I'm feeling down, I probably want something more substantial and hot. It might mean eating a food that reminds you of home and comfort like if your family's chili recipe with a bun or a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup like your parent made you on cold winter days.
On the flip side, if it's hot outside and you want something light, that chili might not be super satisfying, whereas that salad might fit the bill perfectly. Or maybe you want something sweet, cold, and smooth, in which case a smoothie might fit the bill! Trying to figure out what you want when rules and diet plans have dictated your eating can be really difficult so I've listed some questions below to help you figure out what food might be satisfying for you!
Questions to ask yourself to find out what would be satisfying for you
Do you want something hot or cold?
Substantial or light?
Savoury or sweet?
Smooth or crunchy?
Spicy or mild?
How do you want to feel afterwards?
How long do you need the food to last?
Those first 5 questions are really important in helping you feel satisfied with your food choice but so are the last two! Let's say you're thinking something hot, substantial and savoury. That could mean pasta, pizza, stew, curry or many other things but you know that pasta with tomato sauce gives you heartburn. In that case, while the pasta and tomato sauce might feel good in the moment, getting that heartburn later probably will make the meal less satisfying because that heartburn is going to interfere with the pleasure of eating! Maybe you choose pesto on the pasta or a different sauce and add some veggies and protein that makes sure you feel good afterwards.
If you're hungry now but you're going out to a favourite restaurant with friends in a few hours, having that pasta is probably going to mean you won't be hungry when you go out with friends. In this case, you might choose to have a snack to tide you over for a few hours so you can fully enjoy the meal with your friends and have something you truly want then.
It's all about a balance of satisfying AND filling!
So let's put this together, shall we? Let's say that you would find a crispy grilled cheese sandwich satisfying but you find the sandwich on it's own doesn't make you feel full. What if you were to add some vegetables on the side? Would you feel just as satisfied if you used whole grain bread instead of white? Again, only you can answer that question. If you're really craving a grilled cheese on white bread and the whole grain wouldn't be satisfying, that's okay! Maybe you just add some veggies. Or maybe whole grain bread would do the trick but soup on the side is what you want instead of veggies.
But.... what about nutrition?
So you'll notice I haven't really talked a lot about nutrition in all of this but there is a reason for that. What I've been talking about above is a component of Intuitive Eating called 'the satisfaction factor.' The truth is, when you're figuring out what's satisfying for you, initially you might have to let go of the nutrition side of things, at least for a bit so you can really figure out what feels good for you.
Before people start freaking out, I'm not saying nutrition doesn't matter. Trust me, I went to school and studied it for a long time so that's definitely NOT what I'm saying. What I am saying is that sometimes, we ignore what we really want because we might think it's not a really nutritious option. Initially, letting go of nutrition can be a good idea to really get us in touch with our body. Once we get a handle on that, then we can start bringing nutrition into the equation.
The truth is, you'll probably start bringing it in without really realizing it when you consider how you want your body to feel afterwards.
You might notice if you don't include some whole grains, veggies and fruits, or beans, you might get a bit... well backed up, which doesn't feel awesome. You might notice that adding some protein from meat, eggs, beans, or dairy keeps you going longer than without.
You won't always be able to eat exactly what you know will satisfy you and that's okay
Another important point is that sometimes, you aren't going to be able to really have what you want. Living in a small city in the Northwest Territories, some of my favourite meals are from restaurants we don't have here. For example, I have a major thing for butternut squash ravioli with pine nuts and fried sage in a beurre blanc sauce from a restaurant chain that isn't in Yellowknife.
While I love to cook, I haven't quite made it up to making my own ravioli or beurre blanc (which for those of you who don't know is a delicious sauce basically made of butter and other delicious things). When that's what I really want, I might make pasta with roasted butternut squash with sage and butter because that's going to give me similar flavour and heartiness. I also know that I generally need some protein to feel satisfied so I would probably add something to this like maybe some navy beans if I'm not in the mood to cook anything else!
Sometimes, you might not have the option to have something that even comes close to what you really want but you need to eat something because you're hungry! That's 100% okay, trying to eat what feels satisfying when you can doesn't mean you can only ever eat what is truly satisfying for you because that's not always realistic! Sometimes we just need to eat what's available to get on with our day and to take care of ourselves.
If you want help with getting in touch with learning to eat what feels good and healing your relationship with food, you can find more information about my services here. I see clients in person in Yellowknife but I also see clients over video and phone! You can contact me for more information on that.