Getting Started with the Hunger Scale
How to use the hunger and fullness scale…. So you’re interested in ditching the diet and tuning inward. You are ready to start paying attention to your hunger and fullness cues, but you’ve never done this before, so you don’t know where to start. That’s quite alright my friend, I’m here to guide you.
For many dieters and disordered eaters, it’s common to feel disconnected from hunger and fullness cues. If you’re someone who doesn’t regularly feel hunger, consider if that your body might need some consistency. A good place to start would be to follow the “rule of 3”.
- Start your day by eating breakfast within 1-2 hours of waking.
- Next, aim to have a meal or snack every 3-4 hours to properly fuel your brain and body’s needs.
- Lastly, you’ll want to incorporate 3 different foods- a carbohydrate, a fat, and a protein at each meal.
Now, every body is different (*respect*). After establishing consistency for the period of time that your unique and beautiful body needs, you will start to re-establish trust, and connect with your body! This is a great time to turn towards the hunger and fullness scale. It is truly a special gift to cultivate a trusting relationship with the body. As with any broken relationship, mending is possible with time, so I encourage you to be patient with this process.
Once you start to feel body sensations, you can use them to guide your eating. Here is a hunger and fullness scale to start you off:
In the beginning, it will be helpful to check in with your hunger many times a day. You might consider setting timers to prompt you. If you’ve ever rated your pain, you’ll be familiar with the idea of a 1-10 scale. Just like pain is subjective, so is hunger. There is no right or wrong, rather this scale is here to guide you.
Start to feel in your body where you experience hunger. For me, I feel a slight growl in my stomach and a gnawing ache in my throat when I am hungry. Others might feel:
- Rumbling in the stomach
- Stomach emptiness
- Difficulty focusing or concentrating
- Increased thoughts about food
Your job will be to figure out what hunger feels like for you. The idea is to eat a meal or snack at a comfortable level of hunger, (around that 3-4 on the scale). Eating at this level, allows us to peacefully enjoy our meals, and stay connected with our bodies & respect their fullness.
For several days, it will be a good idea to track your hunger at each meal and snack. Rate it using the scale, and then identify if your hunger is pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral.
When hunger is neutral or pleasant, this is a great time to eat. It means we can mindfully stay connected with our eating experience.
When hunger is unpleasant, we are likely ravenous, experiencing primal hunger. The body responds to this famine by feasting. During intense hunger, we often eat quickly, and larger amounts, potentially leading to an uncomfortable level of fullness. While this is a normal body response to restriction, it might lead to unpleasant feelings of fullness and emotional distress.
If we listen to our bodies, their innate wisdom will tell us exactly what we need. When I think about the word “wise”, I envision an older individual, with a kind, wrinkled face, and the ability to smile with the eyes. This person has lived through many life experiences and can share perspective and wisdom.
If we think about the body from an evolutionary perspective, and separate present day age, from generationally inherited wisdom, the body is an old wise soul worth listening to. Once you listen to and respect the body, a world of opportunity will open up to you. I’m sure of it.
To summarize, here are your action items:
- Carve out several days to commit to tuning inward. I invite you to try for 5 days.
- Plan to use the “rule of 3” to eat a meal/snack every 3-4 hours.
- Prior to eating, use the scale above to guide you in recognizing your unique hunger.
- Rate this hunger as pleasant/unpleasant/neutral.
- Enjoy your food, rate your fullness, and stay tuned for a separate blog post on fullness/satisfaction.