Updated: Mar 13, 2022
Written by: Natalie Faella, MS, RDN, LDN | July 21, 2021
Have you ever eaten around a craving? You know, after dinner when you reeeally want that salted caramel ice cream that is in the freezer but you tell yourself you shouldn’t have it? So you end up slicing up an apple for dessert instead. And then 5 minutes later, grab a handful of almonds. And then a couple of handfuls of pretzels, because maybe it’s something salty you want? And then you’re back to the almonds. And then, “Cheese? Is it cheese I want??”
This could have all been avoided if we would have just let ourselves eat the salted caramel ice cream! That is what we desired at the time, and those attempts to avoid it (the apple, pretzels, etc.,) did not satisfy our tastebuds. This is how avoiding a craving can backfire. We can actually end up eating more (i.e., eating our way around it) by avoiding it.
“Discover the satisfaction factor” is one of the 10 principles of intuitive eating. Satisfying foods are not only ones that we find hearty or filling but ones we enjoy. You would think that "satisfaction" would be a driving force behind our food decisions, but most of the time it isn’t. This is because diet culture gets in the way and messes with our ability to intuitively eat.
Why is this important? Choosing foods we enjoy and opting for satisfying meals are giant steps to eating more intuitively and building a healthier relationship with food. Discovering the satisfaction factor also helps us to feel our fullness more quickly and more accurately, which can help us avoid overeating and having stronger cravings in the future.
Here are some ways to tap into that satisfaction factor:
1. Eat Fats.
A macronutrient that we sometimes try to minimize in our diets because of its calorie content. It is true that fats are more energy-dense than carbs and proteins, but this is part of what makes them satisfying. A meal or snack that contains fat is going to be more filling and hold us longer than one without it. It is also going to make the meal more satisfying because of the creamy texture and savory taste it adds. Just think of how a salad tastes without dressing, or pasta without butter or olive oil, or a sandwich without avocado, mayo, hummus, etc.
Fun fact: fats actually help us absorb more nutrients from our meals as well, like the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Think of that next time you think you should order your salad without dressing!
2. Plate a meal, not macros.
Part of diet culture’s message is to eat for “fuel,” not for pleasure. This can cause us to choose foods that meet certain rules of the diet (“Eat 2 carbs and 2 proteins at lunch, and 1 carb and 2 proteins at dinner”), and not foods that go well together. For example, I can remember a former client, who was dieting, tell me that she would eat rice cakes and a plain chicken breast for dinner (carbs + protein, no fat). Yes, that was her meal! She was not concerned with taste or enjoyment — just following the rules of the diet. After learning more about the satisfaction factor, she understood why she was picking on sweet and salty foods hours after her rice cake and chicken dinner.
3. Include a balance of food groups.
I think the most satisfying meals are ones where most food groups are present: protein, starch, vegetable/fruit, and fat. And the most satisfying snacks are ones with more than one food group present: starch + fat or protein, fruit or veg + fat or protein, etc. For example, I love peanut butter toast, but when I add blueberries (and a sprinkle of cinnamon and drizzle of honey) it is an even more satisfying breakfast. And pretzels alone for a snack aren’t as satisfying or filling unless I’m dipping them in hummus (starch + fat). Not only does this balance create a more satisfying meal, it also adds and helps us absorb more nutrients.
Fun fact: certain foods have synergistic effects, meaning their nutrients are better absorbed and utilized when eaten with other foods.
4. Slow down and be present.
Or in other words, practice mindful eating. This is something I know I need to work on. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been scrolling Instagram, answering emails, overthinking something, etc., and then notice I’m almost finished with a meal I don’t even remember eating! It can be hard to give yourself a true lunch break at work or find a moment of quiet to sit and eat a meal in peace (especially if you have other little mouths to feed at home). The good news is, even just brief moments of mindfulness during a meal can help. Checking in on how the food tastes, noticing the different textures in each bite, thinking about some of the nutrients in that meal — these techniques can help bring us back to the present moment and away from that mental to-do list. This can help us slow down and actually enjoy our food.
5. Choose foods we enjoy and desire.
This seems obvious, but it’s not always super clear if we are choosing certain foods because we enjoy them, or because we think they are “better” for us than another option. For example, have you ever ordered a salad even though you really wanted that pasta dish on the menu? If you’ve had diet mentality for a while, it can be really scary to allow yourself to choose what you want vs. what you think you “should” eat. Just know that the more you do this, the more you’re preventing those times of eating around a craving, and the closer you're getting to intuitive eating.
Plus, sometimes our cravings are a way of our bodies telling us we’re in need of something. For example, sometimes craving a burger can be a sign of low iron, and chocolate can be a sign we’re in need of magnesium. For females, it’s thought that cravings like potato chips or chocolate during your period can actually be because the extra potassium and magnesium would be helpful to alleviate cramps. Crazy, right?
Bottom line, food is meant to be enjoyed! By honoring the satisfaction factor, we can more accurately assess our fullness, limit cravings, and potentially choose more of the nutrients we need. Try to take some time this week to slow down, enjoy your meals, and key in on that satisfaction factor.
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