How to use the hunger scale for intuitive eating. What is the hunger scale and how does it work? How does it apply to intuitive eating and how can it help you regulate how much you eat and when you eat? Read on for more information.
Since the beginning of time, man has relied on hunger cues to identify their body’s need for food. They also relied on naturally identifying when they were full and had enough food. There wasn’t any need for diets or restrictions around food.
Our Body’s Natural Hunger Cues
When we were born, we cried when we were hungry and we were fed. We felt satisfied after being fed until we were hungry again. As adults (and even younger people), we no longer rely on those natural hunger cues to identify when when our bodies need food. We also use psychological hunger cues and use food to satisfy emotions like sadness, anger, boredom, being happy etc.
Introduce the diet industry and telling you when to eat, what to eat, what are good foods and what are bad foods and how much of each you should eat by counting calories, tracking foods and paying a lot of money for the privilege.
Our bodies are naturally designed to seek food when we’re hungry and stop eating when we’re full. We’ve some how lost that over the last few generations but it is possible to get back to knowing your body’s hunger cues using the hunger scale and adapting a mindful and intuitive way of eating.
What is a hunger scale?
A hunger scale is a scale numbered from 1 to 10 where 1 identifies that you are feeling extreme hunger and 10 being the opposite of the scale where you are feeling beyond full. The hunger scale can help you learn how to tell the difference between true, physical hunger and psychological hunger. You will learn how to listen to your body’s natural hunger cues again.
Using a hunger scale to learn how to recognize your hunger cues will help retrain your body and your mind. You will develop a true feeling of hunger and fullness that will stop you from overeating and only use food to satisfy true hunger and not to satisfy emotional feelings. This is one of the main reasons for weight gain.
When you feel hungry even though you recently ate, use the hunger scale to see if what you’re feeling is really a craving brought on by something psychological.
When you start feeling like you want something to eat, rate your hunger on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being starving and 10 being so full you feel sick. A rating of 5 or 6 means you’re comfortable, neither too hungry nor too full.
- 1 – Starving, empty feeling, nauseous
- 2 – Very hungry, cranky, ravenous, could eat anything in sight
- 3 – Pretty hungry, strong desire to eat, hunger pangs
- 4 – Starting to feel a little hungry, stomach my grumble
- 5 – Satisfied, neither hungry nor full
- 6 – No longer hungry, pleasantly full
- 7 – Past feeling satisfied, a little uncomfortable
- 8 – Feeling very full, may feel slightly uncomfortable
- 9 – Very uncomfortable, stomach hurts, in a “food coma”
- 10 – So full you feel sick, no desire to look at food
After practicing listening to your body’s hunger cues, you’ll soon learn that you will eat when you’re at 3 or 4 on the hunger scale. If you leave it too late, like at 1 or 2, you may overeat because you are too hungry.
Try to stop what you’re doing when you eat. Your body may only need a small snack to feel satisfied so you will stop eating when you get to either 5 or 6 on the scale, when you are full.
Learn how to stop eating
Try to stop eating before you get too full. This means you ate too much that your body didn’t need.
Start to track your eating times and what your hunger was on the scale. Everyone has different levels of fullness so work out how much food it takes for you to feel comfortably full.
- Relax before you start eating, and then eat slowly. Remember that it takes some time for your stomach to tell your brain that you’re full.
- Stop at regular times during your meal or snack and check your hunger level. If you’re still hungry, keep eating. Unlike what you learned as a child, you don’t have to clean your plate.
- Learn what a serving size is. Knowing what adequate portion sizes are of different foods will help you learn how much of a particular food you need to meet your daily nutritional requirements.
Don’t restrict any foods
When you start to restrict foods from your diet, you may tend to crave them. These could be foods high in sugar or fat and not necessarily nutrient rich foods.
An eating plan that is high in nutrient rich foods will go a long way to keeping you feeling fuller for longer, have enough energy to get through your day, help you sleep well and even help you not even feel like eating these kinds of foods.
But that’s not to say that these foods are bad or off limits. You shouldn’t feel bad about eating any food, especially in social situations, holidays, events or just because. Remember these tips to help you eat a well balanced range of foods to maintain good health and nutrition:
- Apply the hunger scale first. Even though there is a piece of chocolate cake being offered, you may be at a scale of 9 on the hunger scale which could tip you over the edge into feeling really nauseous and uncomfortable. It is okay to say no.
- Try not to let yourself get to a 1 or 2 on the hunger scale. When you get that hungry, you’re likely to eat faster, make poorer food choices, and keep eating past the “satisfied” point. You may opt for fast food and not be able to wait until you get home for those healthier food options you bought just the other day that need to be prepared.
- On the other hand, letting yourself feel some hunger between meals can be a good thing. After all, it’s a sign that you’re not overeating and you’re learning your hunger cues. Teach yourself to appreciate these hunger pangs as a natural part of life and that you’re a healthy eater.
- Focus on your hunger cues throughout your day and for how you’re feeling right now, not in the future. Don’t eat more now because you know you might be out later in the evening. Worry about later when it happens. Be prepared by keeping healthy snack options on you or if you are out and about. Learn about more nutritious take out options.
- Work out what is best for you and your family as far as meal times goes. Some people prefer eating smaller serving sizes at several times of the day. (As a Dietitian, I recommend eating food every 3 to 4 hours.) Other people may prefer 3 meals per day. Once you learn your hunger cues, you’ll see a pattern starting to emerge of what will work best for you.
- If you don’t like wasting food, serve yourself smaller portion sizes. You can always get more food if you still feel hungry. Remember it does take up to 20 minutes before your stomach sends a signal to your brain that it is full. (This does vary from person to person.)
- Learn how to embrace the whole act of eating by sitting at the table, without distractions when you eat food. Don’t eat in front of the TV or while driving. Don’t read while you eat. Savor every mouthful, enjoy all senses when eating, ie the taste, the texture, the smell, the sight of the food. This will help you even more to recognize your fullness level on the hunger scale.
Dieting and restricting foods isn’t good for our health overall. It can lead to poor eating habits and even further weight gain after the diet has ended. It is far better to learn how to eat intuitively, that is learn how to rely on your body’s natural hunger cues to know when you’re body is naturally hungry then stop when your body has had enough food.
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