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Understanding Your Body's Signals: The Intuitive Eating Hunger/Fullness Scale

Have you ever found yourself eating past the point of comfort, feeling uncomfortably full and discretely unbuttoning your pants under the table? Or, perhaps you've ignored your hunger pangs until you became irritable and ravenous, ultimately letting your "hangry" self dictate what to eat? If so, you're not alone.

Many of us have lost touch with our body's natural hunger and fullness cues, often due to years of dieting, being distracted while eating, and/or following external rules about when and how much to eat.

However, the intuitive eating hunger/fullness scale can help you reconnect with your body's signals and develop a healthier, more balanced relationship with food.

Keep reading to learn what the hunger/fullness scale is, why it can be a vital tool, and how to use it.

What is the Hunger/Fullness Scale and What Is It Not?

The hunger/fullness scale is a valuable tool used in the intuitive eating framework to help people reconnect with their body's internal cues. It uses a simple 0-10 rating system to gauge physical hunger and fullness levels. Below is a breakdown of what each number means:

The intuitive eating hunger / fullness scale

The hunger and fullness scale is not a strict rulebook telling you when you can or can't eat. Rather, it can be a helpful guide to tune in to your body, telling you when it's time to eat or when you've had enough. Using the scale can help you understand your eating patterns (ex: how many meals & snacks feels good for you) and what influences your food choices (ex: emotions, stress, preparedness).

There will be times when you get overly hungry (rating 0-2) because life got busy and you didn't have a snack on hand. There will also be times when you end up eating a bit too much just because the food was too good to resist. And that's totally fine - it's all part of the learning process!

Why is the Hunger/Fullness Scale a Helpful Tool?

The scale comes from the Intuitive Eating framework, a 10-step method designed to help you learn to trust your body, ditch the diet, and rediscover the joy of food and eating. If you've been on diet after diet or relied on calorie counts or points to determine how much and what to eat, tuning into your body's natural cues might seem overwhelming.

A core tenent of intuitive eating is "rejecting the diet mentality" (principle 1) and parting with an all-or-nothing way of eating. Utilizing the hunger/fullness scale serves as a connection between relying on diet rules to guide our body's nourishment and fully trusting our body's signals.

It encourages you to be curious about the messages your body is sending and to react without judgment. This approach can aid in adopting a more flexible mindset towards food, leading to a balanced and plentiful relationship with nutrition.

How to Use the Hunger/Fullness Scale

Using the hunger/fullness scale effectively takes practice, but here are some steps to get you started:

Before Eating: Take a moment to check in with your body. How hungry are you? Try to rate your hunger level on the scale.

Ideally, aim to start eating when you're around a 3 or 4 on the scale. This is when you're definitely hungry, but not yet ravenous.

While Eating: As you eat, do so slowly and mindfully. Using your five senses, pay attention to the tastes, textures, and smells of your food. Eat without distractions (that means no phones, computers, or TV!).

Check in with your body periodically during the meal. How full are you feeling? Is the food still as satisfying as when you started?

After Eating: Try to stop eating when you reach about a 7 on the scale - satisfied and comfortably full, but not overstuffed.

Benefits of Using the Hunger/Fullness Scale

Incorporating the hunger/fullness scale into your eating habits can offer several benefits:

  • It helps prevent extreme hunger, which can lead to overeating and feeling uncomfortably full.

  • The scale can assist in differentiating between physical hunger and emotional hunger or eating out of boredom or stress.

  • It promotes mindful eating by encouraging you to pay attention to your body's signals throughout a meal.

  • Using the scale can improve your understanding of your body's changing nutritional needs from day to day.

Tips for Successfully Using the Hunger/Fullness Scale

Practice Regularly: The more you use the scale, the better you'll become at recognizing and interpreting your body's signals.

Be Patient With Yourself: It can take time to relearn your hunger and fullness cues, especially if you've been ignoring them for years.

Remove Distractions While Eating: Try to eat without watching TV, scrolling through your phone, or working. This will help you stay tuned in to your body's signals.

Aim for Progress, Not Perfection: Remember that it's okay to occasionally eat past fullness; perfection is not the goal here. Sometimes you're having your favorite food, you're celebrating a special occasion, or, you were feeling particularly hungry that day.

Use Body Scans: If you're having trouble identifying hunger or fullness, try doing a full body scan. Start from the top of your head and move down to your toes, being mindful of common physical hunger symptoms such as stomach growling, light-headedness, or a feeling of emptiness in your stomach.

Important Considerations

While the hunger/fullness scale can be a helpful tool, it's important to keep a few things in mind:

1. The scale is a tool, not a set of rigid rules. Use it as a guideline, not as strict law.

2. Your body's needs can vary significantly from day to day based on factors like physical activity, stress levels, hormones, and more.

3. If you've been dieting for a long time, your natural hunger and fullness cues may be disrupted. It might take some time to reconnect with these signals.

4. The scale may not be appropriate to use during times of high stress, anxiety, or when you're very distracted. In these situations, you may need to eat based on what you know your body needs rather than what you feel.

5. Remember that regular, consistent nourishment is important. Sometimes you may need to eat even if you're not feeling particularly hungry, especially if it's been several hours since your last meal.

The hunger/fullness scale is just one aspect of the broader intuitive eating approach. It's a tool to help you develop a more peaceful and balanced relationship with food and your body. With practice and patience, you can learn to trust your body's signals and eat in a way that feels satisfying and nourishing, without rigid rules or guilt.

If you find yourself struggling to use the hunger/fullness scale or if you have a history of disordered eating or an eating disorder, it may be helpful to work with a registered dietitian (that's us!). We can provide personalized guidance and support as you learn to reconnect with your body's signals.

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