Kari Dahlgren

Coach | Author | Advocate

feel normal around food again

Why Do I Feel Full but Not Satisfied? How to Feel Satisfied After Eating Again

15 reasons for feeling full but not satisfied & how to feel satisfied after eating again

Have you ever finished a meal feeling physically full but not satisfied emotionally or mentally? This predicament is actually a common experience — one that can be remedied through a mind-body approach to balanced eating.

Fullness is a tangible, physiological state where your stomach tells you it’s had enough. However, feeling truly satisfied with a meal encompasses your psychology too. It’s about feeling content and nourished on all levels. With so many overlapping elements, it’s easy to get stuck in the gap between fullness and true satisfaction.

To help you bridge the gap, this article delves into potential triggers — of both body and mind — that might prevent feelings of satisfaction despite physical fullness. By exploring these dynamics, we pave the way towards learning how to feel satisfied after eating, promoting a more balanced relationship with food.

If you’ve ever wondered, “Why don’t I feel satisfied after eating?” a comprehensive list of evidence-based answers is on the way, along with tips for putting it all into practice.

Understanding Fullness and Satisfaction

Fullness is a physiological sensation that occurs when the stomach reaches a comfortable capacity. Leptin, often referred to as the ‘fullness hormone,’ plays a critical role in signaling satiety to the brain, according to StatPearls, a continuously updated collection of peer-reviewed articles.[1] Additionally, stretch receptors in the stomach provide mechanical feedback that contributes to the sensation of being full, according to a study published in the journal Physiology & Behavior.[2]

Satisfaction is an emotion. It’s a feeling of fulfillment or contentment that arises when your needs, desires, or expectations are met. Sometimes you can feel satisfied by a bland dish if that’s what you were craving or if your “taste needs” are low. When you’re experiencing a specific craving in the presence of hunger, the craved food would provide the most satisfaction.

Why Don’t I Feel Satisfied After Eating? Exploring Body-Based Triggers

If you often find yourself not feeling satisfied after eating, there are two areas to explore: physiology (body) and psychology (mind). Let’s explore physiology first as it can override any attempts to address the psychology of overeating.

Keep in mind that, while there are compelling physiological reasons for feeling full but not satisfied, I encourage you to keep an open mind and keep exploring beyond this level. Eating behaviors should be addressed holistically, which involves a mind-body approach that includes psychology too.

Here are some common physiological triggers for feeling full but not satisfied after eating:

  • Low Carb Content: A deficiency in any single macronutrient, such as carbohydrates, can spur feelings of dissatisfaction after eating. While low-carb diets are currently popular and associated with many health benefits, a lack of dietary satisfaction is of concern.[3] Without enjoyment of food, a diet quickly becomes unsustainable and fuels the restrict-binge cycle.
  • Low Fat Content: Dietary fat helps regulate appetite and promote feelings of fullness.[4] Generally, low-fat meals are high in volume, which can promote short-term fullness, but lack satisfaction — and you’re likely to feel hungry again shortly after eating.
  • Low Protein Content: Protein increases satiety to a greater extent than carbohydrate or fat, making it a staple of a well-balanced and satisfying meal.[5] Without protein, a meal might cause feelings of physical fullness without satisfaction.
  • Neurotransmitter Imbalances: Neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine play roles in mood and satiety, and imbalances can affect how satisfied you feel after eating. For instance, if serotonin levels are low, you might find yourself craving carbohydrates even after a full meal, seeking serotonin-derived satisfaction.[6]
  • Hormonal Factors: Hormones such as leptin and ghrelin regulate appetite and satiety. When these hormones are imbalanced — a common result of excessive dieting[7] — it can cause a disconnect between feeling full and feeling satisfied.
  • Health conditions: Certain health conditions can interfere with your body’s ability to feel satisfied after eating. Diabetes[8], obesity[9], and hypothyroidism[10] can all affect appetite-regulating hormones.

As you can see, the absence of entire macronutrients in meals can significantly trigger feelings of fullness without satisfaction, and this can be compounded by potential health conditions. As you work towards understanding your unique reasons for not feeling satisfied after eating, it’s important to work with a medical professional to address or rule out any underlying medical conditions or necessary dietary changes.

But what if you eat a balanced diet, have any medical conditions in check, and still struggle with not feeling satisfied after eating? This is where the psychology of eating can play a pivotal role — which is my specialty as an eating psychology coach.

Psychological Reasons for Feeling Full but Not Satisfied After Eating

A mind-body approach is crucial for healing your relationship and experiences with food. When someone asks, ”Why do I never feel satisfied after eating?” despite having a balanced diet and good health, it’s vital to consider the psychological aspects of satisfaction. After all, satisfaction is not just a physical sensation but an emotional experience.

Here are common psychological reasons for feeling full but not satisfied after eating:

  • Lack of Enjoyment: It’s no surprise that enjoyment of food is associated with satisfaction.[11] When you eat the foods you love up to comfortable fullness, you’ll feel full and satisfied.
  • Lack of Variety and Palatability: Eating the same foods repeatedly can sometimes cause meals to feel uninteresting and unsatisfying. Similarly, when a meal contains foods of similar textures (e.g. predominantly mushy foods) it can spur a lack of satisfaction after eating.
  • Sensory-Specific Satiety: Interestingly, over-compromising for lack of variety can have the same result. When a meal has a lot of variety, you’re less likely to experience sensory-specific satiety, which refers to the diminishing desire to continue eating a particular food as you eat it.[12] With many different flavors and textures at a meal, each new taste can renew your interest in eating, preventing any single flavor from making you feel fully satisfied.
  • Mindless Eating: Distracted eating, such as eating while watching TV, can lead to reduced awareness of internal body signals. This lack of attention can prevent the development of sensory-specific satiety, making it difficult to feel truly satisfied despite being physically full.[13]
  • Emotional Eating: When we eat in response to feelings rather than hunger, the food might fill our stomachs but not fulfill our emotional needs. Emotional hunger is different from physical hunger, and it’s possible to be physically full while simultaneously feeling an emotional urge for something more.
  • Restrictive Dieting: Self-imposed dietary restrictions can lead to feelings of deprivation and cravings, making even a full meal seem insufficient if it doesn’t include the foods you actually desire.[14] If you’re not feeling satisfied after eating, consider whether you’re avoiding the foods you’re craving.
  • Unmet Cravings: Hunger and cravings can occur together or separately. Any food can satisfy hunger while only particular foods can satisfy a craving.[14] If you feel full but not satisfied after eating, it could be motivated by an unmet craving.
  • Life Satisfaction: When someone has high life satisfaction, they may have a higher tolerance for occasional eating experiences that lack satisfaction. One small study found that higher life satisfaction correlated with reduced consumption of commonly craved foods.[15]
  • Deprivation: Studies show that deprivation is associated with cravings and overeating.[16], [17] When someone feels deprived of beloved foods, it can lead to a psychological sense of dissatisfaction despite consuming an adequate amount of food.
  • Body Image: Negative feelings about your body can taint your eating experiences, making it difficult to feel satisfied with any meal, as feelings of guilt or shame may dominate the eating experience.

Understanding these psychological factors sheds light on why eating can sometimes leave us feeling full without the accompanying sense of satisfaction. With this knowledge, it becomes possible to learn how to feel satisfied after eating by exploring strategies that not only cater to our physical needs but also nourish our emotional and psychological well-being.

How to Feel Satisfied After Eating

Now let’s explore some practical strategies to align your mind-body needs during mealtime — that way physical fullness and perceived satisfaction have a better chance of coinciding. These tips aim to create a dining experience that leaves you feeling full and satisfied, reducing the risk of overeating.

Here are some steps for learning or relearning how to feel satisfied after eating:

1. Stop “Eating Around” Your Cravings to Promote Satisfaction After Eating

“Eating around” a craving involves substituting a craving with an alternative perceived as healthier or more acceptable. What starts with noble intentions to eat healthy can sometimes snowball into the restrict-binge cycle where feelings of deprivation trigger overeating.

For instance, imagine craving a chocolate brownie. Instead of indulging in the brownie, you choose to eat a piece of fruit because it’s also sweet and perceived as a healthier option (even though all foods can fit into a balanced diet[18]).

When fruit doesn’t satisfy, you feel a bit aimless and yearning, so you reach for an innocent handful of Wheat Thins for their crunchiness — yet it still misses the mark on satisfying your initial craving.

This cycle can continue in a string of unsatisfying snacks or even full meals that never hit the spot, ultimately leading to more food consumed in the long-run than if the original craving was satisfied from the get-go.

The key to avoiding this cycle and learning how to feel satisfied after eating is honoring your cravings. By giving yourself permission to eat the foods you love and enjoy, within the bounds of hunger and fullness, you can foster a more satisfying and balanced eating experience.

2. Eat for Health and Satisfaction

Permission to eat the foods you enjoy is a pillar of intuitive eating, which encourages listening to internal body cues rather than external diet rules. Some other principles of intuitive eating include eating when you’re hungry, stopping when you’re full, and allowing all types of foods unless medical conditions dictate otherwise.[19]

When you make foods off-limits, you think about them more and increase your desire for them due to the effects of reverse psychology.[20] Instead of battling against your mind and body through dieting, get curious about putting down the food rules and allowing balance and satisfaction to naturally emerge.

When you make eating decisions based on health as well as enjoyment, you end up with greater meal satisfaction and diminish the cycle of feeling full but not satisfied after eating.

Find balance on your terms: Discover a path towards balanced eating that’s unique to you by taking my quiz to discover your eating psychology strength. Even if you feel unsatisfied after mealtimes, we all have a strength — and I would love the chance to hold up the mirror and point out one of yours.

3. Address What Comes Up When You Don’t Want to Stop at Fullness

Even with the practice of intuitive eating, stopping at fullness can sometimes be challenging, especially when emotional eating is involved. Emotions — both positive and negative — can trigger overeating, as food becomes a maladaptive coping mechanism to soothe unpleasant feelings or foster more positive feelings.[21]

In these instances, my Stop, Drop, and Feel®️ method can be particularly useful for stopping at physical fullness. This technique encourages you to stop before you eat beyond fullness, drop into your body, and genuinely feel the full spectrum of your emotions without resisting them. This practice promotes emotional tolerance, or distress tolerance, which is associated with reduced overeating.[22]

Ideally, the path to learning how to feel satisfied after eating involves both body and mind. Nourish your body by eating for satisfaction and allowing yourself to enjoy the foods you love and crave. At the same time, harness your mindset by navigating any urges to eat beyond fullness that are emotionally driven.

4. Manage Any Fears of Eating What You Crave

With flexible eating modalities like intuitive eating, there’s a common fear of weight gain associated with abandoning strict food rules. Many people struggle with feeling full but not satisfied because they’re trying to choose healthier alternatives over their true cravings — even though learning how to feel satisfied after eating involves incorporating foods that you actually enjoy.

Although intuitive eating is not a tool for weight loss, clinical studies show that intuitive eating tends to correlate with a healthier body weight, suggesting that it’s a more effective approach than strict dieting.[23] Despite these insights, the fear of weight gain remains powerful for some and can cause significant anxiety. It’s important to address these fears constructively (discussed in detail in the video above) and embrace intuitive eating at a pace that prevents overwhelm.

5. Reduce Perfectionism and Manage Expectations of 100% Satisfaction

For anyone still wondering, “Why am I not satisfied after eating?” another factor to consider is expectation. Earlier I mentioned that satisfaction arises when your needs, desires, or expectations are met. For some of us, these expectations might be inaccessible or too high.

Without the luxury of a personal chef or an unlimited grocery budget, it’s not realistic or accessible to make every meal perfectly satisfying.

Can you hold space for the edginess of dissatisfaction on days where, despite your best intentions, satisfying meals simply weren’t accessible?

During everyday life, various constraints like time, money, or availability of ingredients often prevent every meal from being perfectly satisfying. It’s important to expect imperfection. Instead of focusing on 100% satisfaction, concentrate on doing the best with what’s available. This mindset helps prevent feelings of dissatisfaction that arise from unrealistic expectations.

6. Promote Life Satisfaction Alongside Eating Satisfaction

Something that can make it difficult to accept an unsatisfying meal is general dissatisfaction with life. When someone struggles with low life satisfaction, it can spur a tendency to seek fulfillment through food. When life gets tough, the question, “Why am I not satisfied after eating?” might crop up more frequently.

This highlights the importance of cultivating joy and satisfaction beyond food to learn how to feel satisfied after eating again. Engaging in hobbies, nurturing relationships, pursuing personal goals, and self-care can all contribute to life satisfaction. By finding fulfillment in these activities, you can alleviate the pressure on meals to provide food and life satisfaction, making it easier to accept occasional unsatisfying meals when they inevitably happen.

7. Cover All Your Physiological Bases

After delving into the psychology of eating, it’s crucial to also consider the physiological factors that impact your sense of satisfaction from meals. Adopting a holistic approach that integrates both mind and body can help ensure that you’re not only mentally but also physically content with your eating experiences.

Here are more tips to help promote eating satisfaction at a physiological level:

  • Eat Slowly: When you eat too fast, it’s common to eat past fullness without truly enjoying your food along the way.[24] Because this can contribute to feeling full but not satisfied after eating, try to slow down your eating speed to enhance satisfaction and help prevent overeating.
  • Eat Mindfully: Mindful eating involves focusing on the taste, texture, and aroma of food in a distraction-free space — all of which enhance satisfaction after eating. Mindful eating is also associated with reduced likelihood of overeating, which can help promote feelings of comfortable fullness without feeling stuffed.[25]
  • Consume Adequate Protein: Including a good source of protein in your meals can increase feelings of fullness and satisfaction after eating.[26]
  • Enjoy Well-Balanced Meals: Strive for a balance of macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins) to promote satisfaction after eating. As mentioned earlier, when meals lack an entire macronutrient (e.g. low-carb, low-fat), it often leads to unmet cravings and feeling full but not satisfied.
  • Embrace Diet Variety: Allowing yourself to enjoy a wide range of foods can promote satisfaction and prevent dietary boredom. If you genuinely enjoy eating the same foods over and over (that’s me!) keep on. If you enjoy variety and seek new experiences, be sure to honor your need for sensory-specific satiety. Find a balance between too much and too little variety.

By integrating these practices into your daily routine, you can create a nourishing eating pattern that supports both your physical and psychological well-being. With a holistic mind-body approach, you can help reduce the frequency of feeling full but not satisfied.

Finding Balance Between Fullness and Satisfaction

Achieving a balance between feeling full and truly satisfied may not always mean reaching 100% satisfaction with every meal, and that’s okay. It’s about giving yourself grace and understanding that every meal won’t be perfect while reducing any self-imposed feelings of deprivation or imbalance.

A holistic, mind-body approach is not just beneficial but necessary for learning how to feel satisfied after eating again. I encourage you to reflect on how your own expectations affect your mealtime satisfaction and share your thoughts in the comments below! I personally read and reply to every single comment.

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15 thoughts on "Why Do I Feel Full but Not Satisfied? How to Feel Satisfied After Eating Again"

  1. Lizsays:

    Excellent piece that hits on a major problem with weight maintenance and food cravings. Thank you!

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      Thanks for the comment Liz! 🙂

  2. C. Smithsays:

    This is the first article I found that describes what I’ve been going through. Over the past few years I’ve discovered food allergies and intolerances and have had to change my diet drastically. I agree we don’t have to be satisfied by every meal, but I find myself at the verge of tears sometimes since I’m unsatisfied at almost every meal. Wheat, rice, potatoes, and milk are all foods that contribute to poor health for me, this includes their derivatives (starches, syrups, etc). My favorite foods that leave me feeling satisfied every time are sandwiches, pizza, and sushi. Notice all those have foods that do not work well with me. I’m so tired of having to spend hours every week making alternative foods with alternative grains, fats or proteins and spending so much money for commercial alternatives. I just want to eat normal food. I don’t want to look at food and see an ingredient list hovering over it of all the things I shouldn’t eat. I don’t want to keep having to turn down going out to eat with people because I’m sick of spending $15 for a salad I could make cheaper at home and still feel just as unsatisfied there (if I do go I have to explain over and over why I’m only drinking sparkling water). I’ve been working trying to find the underlying cause of these food intolerances, and it’s so slow going. I really can’t see why I have to be depressed while I’m trying to get myself better. This difficulty is compounded by the fact I’m trying also to manage my weight, and all the things I make as alternatives are very high calorie (oils, nut flours, and “grains”, like buckwheat, are responsible). I try to make lower calorie versions by reducing the quantity, but them I’m just still hungry and unsatisfied.
    I know that’s a lot, but do you have any suggestions? Even if not, thanks for taking the time to read.

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      Hi C! Wow, I think every single person reading this feels for you. That sound so tough, and I get why it would make you feel depressed. Gosh, the only suggestion that comes to mind is, are you eating enough food? I know that sounds like a crazy question – so many of us that struggle with overeating believe that we eat too much – but you’d be surprised at how many people aren’t eating enough, and I’m wondering if giving yourself the grace of eating a proper amount of food will make things less intolerable?? That’s my only thought at the moment given the little that I know about you. Feel free to comment back with more insight, or email me. I’m happy to dig further.

      1. C. Smithsays:

        Thank you for the reply! Admittedly, I do stop before I’m full because I’m just sick of eating what I’m eating, or I know I’ve eaten the allotted calories for that meal and don’t want to go over. When I do eat to fullness, I still want to eat more because I don’t feel like I’ve eaten something–I don’t feel the satisfactory emotion that comes with having a full meal. I try to just go about my evening, but I’ll often wonder through to kitchen hoping it sparks something that I can remember I can eat. Sometimes all the food I make is gone anyways, and I’m too tired to make something else. I don’t keep snacks around because I’m trying not to get extra calories in because more nutritious snacks (like nut mixes) are high in calories or not satisfying (like veggie chips, plus the commercial ones may have potato starch, one of intolerances I have).
        Thanks again for the reply, I hope the above gives some more insight.

        1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

          It totally does. It reminds me of one of my vegan friends. She goes hungry at night sometimes because she’s too tired to cook food that she can eat. It is definitely a lifestyle – and for her it was chosen, for you it is not, so again, I really feel you! I still wonder if you’re eating enough, and I wonder if my recent blog post about healing your metabolism might provide some good insight for you. Let me know! I’m glad you got back to me 🙂

          1. C. Smithsays:

            Thank you for the link to the post! I’ve encountered similar information to this before, and I’m not sure what to make of it given my lifestyle and goals. Weight loss for me is simply to be comfortable. I’m so uncomfortable feeling like I’m encased in flesh. My size is such that if I don’t wear the right clothes, my thighs chafe. The times when I was able to lose weight, it had to do with my lifestyle at the time. For example, when I was college I ate two meals a day (a piece of fruit or granola bar for breakfast and a full dinner in the evening) and I walked around 3 mi. because the campus was spread about the city. I did this weighted as well since I carried around my 15lb laptop and books. Other scenarios where I was eating fewer high-calorie foods (like in college), or eating a lot of low-calorie foods (like a ‘raw food’ cleanse with 90% non-starchy veggies and fruits, no volume restrictions), plus moderate amounts of exercise, I was able to maintain or lose weight and not feel hungry or dissatisfied. This was all before I discovered these intolerances, allergies, etc. and my food choices were varied. Now, eating intuitively for me means eating all the foods that harm me because that’s always what I want. I may not have to be like this forever based on what my reading and my health practitioner have said. I might be able to add wheat back at least. But it’s making life very depressing and expensive in the meantime. I’ve been years at this. What weight I am losing recently I think is just because I don’t want to eat because it’s so much trouble, or the food is so dissatisfying. If I do get better, I don’t know how I could maintain eating as much as I wanted/needed while also meeting a weight that makes me feel comfortable in my own body. My lifestyle now is very sedentary (I work in an archive), and I’m not a driven person when it comes to exercise. All I can do is about 15 min. a day. All that is a long-winded way of saying I don’t know how to heal my metabolism, since the first step of intuitively eating seems unreachable right now.
            Thank you again for replying to me. I know you don’t have to do this because it’s how you make a living. I would rather pay to get some help (I had a food therapist before when these allergies first were discovered), but I’m really not financially in the position right now, so it’s encouraging you’d even read what I have to say. Thank you again.

  3. Allisonsays:

    Thank you for putting this into words! How is it that my darn perfectionism is screwing with my eating habits?? Thanks for giving me the permission to eat to fullness, yet be ok with not being totally satisfied each time. I needed to hear that today.
    Keep sharing, Kari! These are some huge things to ponder.

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      Thanks for the comment Allison!!! I also find huge relief when reminding myself it’s OK not to feel satisfied every single time 🙂 I relate to perfectionism too. I used to be pretty high strung and “Type A” back when I was still dieting. It’s almost like they both feed into each other: the rules heighten the perfectionism and the perfectionism heightens the rules!

  4. Carriesays:

    I am having trouble reading my body cues about when I am actually full or satisfied. I can eat lots of food…more than I know I should, but I just never seem to get full. And if it’s something satisfying, I eat all of it because it tastes good. After years of dieting, I fear I have lost touch with what my body feels.

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      Hi Carrie! I completely understand the dilemma. Years of dieting can certainly make us doubt ourselves and whether or not we’re truly hungry or full. Time and practice will help. I also encourage you to take an objective look at how much you’re eating, because in my experience, 90% of my clients aren’t eating enough!!! Diet culture has taught us that starving ourselves is normal, and I wonder if that’s what’s happening for you. And if you truly are eating enough and can’t seem to get full, try talking to your doctor. I also wrote a piece on still feeling hungry after eating that I think you’ll find helpful.

  5. Megan Bsays:

    I really needed this today! I ate lunch and still wanted more of something but I knew physically I ate enough, so I did Stop, Drop and Feel. I realized I definitely wasn’t hungry but the feeling of satisfaction was not there. I’m so glad I found this article. It cleared up questions for me and put me in the right state of mind to not dishonor my hunger and keep eating until I found satisfaction (which would only lead to dissatisfaction in the end!) Thank you so much!!!

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      Yeees Megan!!! This is amazing!! LOVE that you did the Stop, Drop, & Feel first. Amazing. And I’m glad this pieced together the rest 🙂 way to use your tools!

  6. Cathy Wolterssays:

    Great blog post. It really resonated. I definitely struggle with Aimless Hunger(now I have a name for it). It’s reassuring to know that sometimes just eating for nutrition is a good option, and not being so hung up on only eating what you craving, especially when you’re not even sure what that is.

    I also really appreciated the breakdown of the differences between fullness and satisfaction.

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      I’m so glad you found this one helpful Cathy! It is so easy to get stuck in accidental perfectionism with eating. And letting go of the need for every meal to be spot-on is quite liberating. 🙂

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