Many of us might wish our stomachs came with a gauge to alarm us when our tank is full or nearing empty. Wouldn’t it be great if our body told us how many more calories we needed to consume to gain, lose and maintain our weight? It’s a bummer Mother Nature didn’t think that one through and give us this helpful visual reminder. But here’s the good news: There is a tool that can help you tune in to your hunger and fullness meter so you don’t overfill your belly or wait too long to eat between meals.

The ability to feel hunger and fullness is a quality that we were each born with. Babies and little kids don’t need to be told how much milk or food they need to consume to stay healthy; instead, when they are satisfied, they become disinterested in food and simply stop eating. As we mature, this ability becomes blunted–we learn to ignore it, confuse it with thirst or forget it altogether.

Luckily, we can train ourselves to tune in to our ability to feel hunger and fullness by visualizing a Hunger Scale. Imagine a meter ranging from 0-10, with zero being empty and 10 being slammed full. While everyone has their own definitions, physical experiences and symptoms of what hunger and fullness ranges look like, for a reference point and further explanation, the ranges are described here for you.

I want to eat everything and anything all at once. I’ll take one of everything on the menu, and I’m definitely getting dessert tonight. I may have low blood sugar because I feel dizzy, lightheaded and flat-out hangry (slang for: so hungry you’re angry).

Energy levels are low, and productivity is down. I may feel shaky, and I have poor concentration and mood swings.

Pit-in-the-stomach hunger and food are dominating my thoughts. I need to find some food fast, and my energy levels are dropping. I’m likely tempted to order unhealthy food at a restaurant and make poor food choices.

It’s time to eat a meal, and if I wait any longer I’m going to start feeling physical symptoms that are unpleasant.

I’m beginning to think about my next meal. I can absolutely wait to eat. If I eat now, I won’t need much to fill me up.

I am neither hungry nor full. Food is not on my mind.

There is food in my belly, but I could eat more. If I stopped now, this meal may not last me longer than two hours.

I’m no longer hungry. While it might be easy to eat more for comfort reasons or for the fact that the food tastes amazing, I feel content and satisfied and I don’t need to eat more.

I ate my fill and may need to loosen the belt buckle at this point. Those last three to four bites put me over the edge.

I overate. Polishing off my whole meal was not a good idea. It’s easy to zone out and disconnect from conversation at this point, because all I can think about is how overfull my stomach feels. I may even begin to feel nauseated.

Ugh, why did I eat so much? I’m feeling stuffed like a turkey at a holiday party. At this point, I may put on some baggy clothes to get comfortable and either go to sleep or binge on Netflix to zone out.

If you want to gain better control and lessen the chances of mindless or emotional eating, try using the Hunger Scale. Here’s how it works:

If you rate yourself overly hungry at 0-2, pay extra attention to how fast you are eating. Purposely slow down so that you don’t pass through satisfaction without even recognizing it.

Gentle hunger can be felt at 4, and slight satisfaction is felt at 6. These are ranges in which it is normal to eat, but keep in mind you may not need very much at all to get you to the point of satisfaction. A small snack may do the trick.

If you’re satisfied and not physically hungry, but food is in front of you and you’re tempted to eat, ask yourself, “What do I need right now?” This is a good way to dodge eating for emotional reasons and take care of yourself, because food will still leave you feeling empty if you’re eating as a reaction to emotions.

As you move through your meal, continue to check in with your satisfaction level instead of eating on autopilot and cleaning your plate. Keep in mind, it may only take a couple bites to feel gentle satisfaction.

If you are stuffed and still have food on your plate, don’t throw in the towel and continue eating to oblivion. Instead, ask for a to-go box, push your plate away, toss it, or give the rest to your puppy.

If you are at a comfortable satisfaction at the end of your meal, it’s likely that you chose the right portion sizes for that meal! Great job!

If you find that you’ve overdone it, realize that overeating happens, even to intuitive eaters. Don’t beat yourself up or feel guilty. Instead, question why you continued to eat past the point of fullness. Were you overly hungry when you started? Did the food just taste too good, so you didn’t want to stop? Or maybe you didn’t want to “waste” it?

Before you can accurately use the scale to tune in to your body’s hunger and fullness and eat intuitively, you first have to determine if your Hunger Scale is operating properly or if it needs to be recalibrated. If you’ve been severely restricting your calories for a while or find yourself yo-yo dieting and going through periods of binge eating, it’s tough to determine true hunger and fullness because the body is all out of whack. Those innate senses have been turned off and ignored for too long, and they need to be brought back to life before jumping into intuitive eating.

A great way to recalibrate is through eating balanced meals that include a variety of food groups (fiber-rich carbs, fats, proteins) with appropriate portions and following a pattern of eating every four hours, give or take. This helps your body get back in tune with a rhythmic pattern of eating and allows normal peaks and valleys in satiety. Until your meter has been recalibrated, it’s tough to really get a clue on hunger and fullness. If you feel nervous about doing this, it might be smart to work with a registered dietitian to help you design a meal plan that meets your “recalibration” needs.






25 Comments

  1. Food for though the manufacturing, perspectives and chemicals put into our food that makes us crave food that’s bad for us.

  2. Michelle

    Beckyj, THANK YOU SO MUCH for your comment. I checked out that site and was so encouraged by it that I bought the book and will start reading it tonight. I’m feeling at the end of my rope and I hope this will help.

  3. Joan M

    I have seen a similar concept, but with a very valuable graphic, from the Maharishi Vedic Medicine people. They use a fan-shaped “gas tank” graphic. The idea is to avoid going below 20% full or above 75% full.
    The problem I’ve had with this type of thing is that I don’t feel how full I am until 2 hours after I eat, especially if I start out very hungry. So I just have to make an intellectual decision to stop eating while I still feel hungry, or I’ll feel overfull 2 hours later.
    Suggestions would be welcome.

  4. gone fishin

    Oh for crying out loud, stick to the point you spoiled brats!

  5. Lilliana Valle

    I feed my dog human food all the time since he was a pup and hes 15 years old. It’s all good!

  6. Stoptheinsanity

    How about just determine the right portion ahead of time and put what’s over that amount into a container for later or for whomever : room mate, dog, pig, elephant, etc

    Before you start eating!

  7. Marinell Barber

    And grapes

  8. Cevin Reed

    I like the article. People need to use common sense. Eat slowly when your hungry and stop when you are not hungry. wait 3-5 hours and repeat.

  9. Cevin Reed

    Funny Dave but good point. Let’s get off the PC wagon people.

  10. Susan Farrar

    Onions and chocolate can kill or harm dogs.

  11. Danni

    I think you may have answered your own question

  12. Emily

    Very interesting post! I’ve never heard of using a “hunger scale” before, but it’s definitely worth trying out. Most of the time I am pretty good about stopping when I begin to feel full, but there are times when I tend to overeat, or eat when I’m not actually very hungry to begin with, like when I’m at one of my favorite restaurants or when I’m bored, so this tool could really come in handy for me. Another great way to prevent overeating is portion control, which I think combined with this hunger scale technique could possibly help a lot of people with their overeating problems. The CDC has some good tips for portion control and maintaining weight that can be found.

  13. Right! And how about mentioning that the ToGo container needs to be biodegradable… no foam! Personally, I think no consideration was given to those poor Orange farmers that are likely to lose business now based on this article. While we are at it, let’s just delete this article, as it’s obviously a misguided attempt to get us to behave cruelly.

  14. Dina Garcia RD LDN

    Could be a 1, 2 or a 3. I’ve felt my stomach growl when I was just a little hungry (a 3) but sometimes I’m at a 3 with no growling. Usually at a 1 or a 2 my stomach is making some noise but sometimes I’m without hunger pangs or growling but rather I feel weak, light headed, or have a headache. As you practice paying attention to how YOUR body responds to hunger and satiety it will get easier for you to know where you are on the scale.

  15. LAura Rogers

    So, this might be a silly question, but where on the Hunger Scale would a growling stomach be?

  16. Kathleen Smith

    Well written and good advice! I plan to begin this approach today. Sometimes I’m thirsty rather than hungry so I try to drink water first.

  17. Stella Kellner

    Btw Love&Zest is not up yet.

  18. Stella Kellner

    “I need to find some food fast, and my energy levels are dropping. I’m likely tempted to order unhealthy food at a restaurant and make poor food choices.” Why would I be tempted to eat unhealthy food just because I’m very hungry? I’ve never had that temptation. You can train yourself to leave junk behind 100%. It’s absolutely the way to go. I do not agree with theories where you are allowed to eat junk or processed stuff time to time. If you keep them in your diet, you’ll always be craving them. I am not obsessed with any specific diet, but I definitely opt for real, natural food vs modified, processed, fast food and all that is not designed for the human body. My grandfather lived to 90, healthy, active, fit and he ate home-made food all his life. Never even touched anything else. Sooner or later we have to realize that trends and fancy diets come and go, but the way to go is to reach for the real thing and leave everything else behind.

  19. Worthy Woman

    I absolutely agree that the taste & the emotional component play a huge role in overeating…….

  20. Cecilia Blackstone

    Both Bruno and Josh are right. Some human food is dangerous, especially chocolate. However, as Josh points out, some human food is okay. Just be wary of the type you feed your dog. I believe the author had this in mind, however, she was trusting that her readers use common sense. Yet, it is good to point out as a reminder to be careful of what human food to feed your pet.

  21. Victoria Rejuney

    I have eating disorders and this article did not bother me. I thought it was a decent article, and not every article is going to address every issue, like disorders, especially since people with disorders probably have them for varying reasons.

  22. Victoria Rejuney

    Oh good grief. We don’t have to take everything literally, nor do we need to assume that dog owners are stupid and don’t know which foods are appropriate for dogs.

  23. Linda Joicy

    Hi Joan, when I read your comment, it was as I if I had written it! I have the exact same problem. I can eat healthy all day and feel full but in the late evening, I want to eat even though I am not hungry! It’s like all I think about is food (I don’t binge eat though) I had heard your not suppose to eat after 8pm. Every morning I get on the scale and then promise myself that I will not eat after 8pm that evening! I sometimes wish we had a door for the kitchen and my husband could lock it at 8pm then hide the key! I would probably have withdrawal symtoms at first though!

  24. Andria

    I love this article! Intuitive eating is one of the main things I help my clients with. I help people who are sick of dieting by helping them relearn their natural eating cues and combine this with nutrition to lose weight in a non-restrictive way.

  25. Tracy B

    I totally agree with Bruno on this one. It would be one thing to feed our pets clean table scraps… but we’re not. “We” are giving them everything under the kitchen sink…. These foods were designed for the human body and we can’t handle it. So why do we think our pets bodies can???

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