One of the most well known components of intuitive eating (IE) is the hunger and fullness scale. In fact, I find that if you aren’t careful, sometimes focusing on this exclusively can result in looking at IE as just another diet. So it is important to be aware of the hunger and fullness aspects but not to turn it into another way to measure success or failure. And if you find that you’ve been dieting for quite some time now, or restricting foods, you may not be in tune with your own hunger and fullness. So let’s learn a few simple tips to help you get in tune with your body more.
Hunger and Fullness As a Child
Think back to when you were a kid for a second. I bet you didn’t have a problem noticing those feelings of hunger. And similar to those feelings of hunger, you were also able to stop eating when you were full. But when we get older, we often lose this ability, resulting in things like mindless eating, overeating, emotional eating and more. The reason that learning to be in tune with your hunger and fullness is important goes far beyond just your physical appearance. As I said already, intuitive eating is not another diet nor is it about weight loss. And it is not something that you fail or succeed at. It is a way of nourishing your body, mind and soul and overall just how you live your life. Learning to understand the hunger and fullness scale is an important part of the intuitive eating journey. The concept is simple, but the application can be difficult. But once you are able to tune in more, this will become second nature, I promise. It just takes some time when you aren’t used to it.
It should also be noted that things like disordered eating, eating disorders, various diseases, chronic dieting, stress, digestive issues and even certain medications can all disrupt the natural ability to detect hunger and fullness. This is why it is so hard to gauge at times.
What is the hunger and fullness scale?
The hunger and fullness scale looks like the following:
Ideally, you want to eat when you find yourself feeling around a level 3-4 and stop eating around a level of 6-7. I say ideally because we don’t live in a perfect world and things can happen. Once you are able to be a little more in tune with your body, you will naturally find that you are able to abide by this scale for the most part.
How to Gauge Your Fullness
Before you begin to eat your meal, do a quick scan of how you are feeling and be cognizant of where you fall on the scale. I say this because chances are, you will find yourself eating quickly (and possibly excessively) when you wait too long to eat. It’s a natural reaction and something that happens to everyone, so don’t beat yourself up about it. Just be aware and perhaps next time, try and be a little more in tune with your body.
Now when you sit down to eat, you want to try and be present. That doesn’t mean you have to sit in silence to enjoy your meal. I personally think that you can enjoy your meal however feels right to you. And I would encourage you to try and slow down between bites of food so you can take a moment and see how you feel while eating. Checking in with yourself in between bites can help prevent eating too quickly or overeating.
When You Can’t Follow the Hunger/Fullness Scale:
Again in an ideal world, you would be able to eat around a 3-4 and stop around a 6-7. However, things pop up and schedules can get hectic and eating at the exact right time is not only not possible but can also add more stress. So what do you do?
I would suggest doing your best to have an idea as to what your schedule is going to look like and planning ahead. Having snacks on hand is always a good idea too. This will help ensure that you can eat something to help with your hunger prior to being able to sit down and eat your meal. Snacks don’t have to be hard to put together either. You can pick up some great quality bars, veggies and hummus or even just an apple. Have a look at this article I published all about healthy (and easy) snack ideas. Something is better than nothing and being prepared is an essential first step. Sometimes, eating a little before you feel physically hungry is important too if you know that your schedule is going to be really busy.
The other thing to do would be to recognize that you may overeat and eat to the point of say an 8 on the scale. If that helps you in the moment and also keeps you fuller longer then that’s ok too. Remember, there are no rules in intuitive eating! It is important to try and make sure that your meals are well balanced so that you are full and satisfied. If you want to learn more about blood sugar balancing meals, have a look at this post. Basically, this means ensuring your meals contain fibre, protein, fat and carbs. If you want an easy and healthy snack idea, be sure to check out my chocolate energy balls, just like the ones in the picture below.
A Note About Fullness:
A lot of times due to a lingering diet mentality, it can seem that you should stop eating once you feel full, like at a level 5. That is because we associate any feelings of being full or satisfied with guilt. And let’s face it, we feel guilty about eating foods that taste good, the term guilty pleasure is proof of that. So rather than stopping eating when we feel neutral, it is perfectly ok to eat when we feel satisfied. If that means adding some extra carbs to a meal then so be it. When we eat until satisfied, we will be less likely to reach for more food later to satisfy us. It is similar to when we eat to fulfil a craving. How many times have you tried to eat something to satisfy a craving using a ‘healthier’ alternative. It doesn’t always work though. Sometimes, we need the real thing. And when we allow ourselves to enjoy that food, we can then just eat it and move on. Food doesn’t need to have such control over us after all.
Eating When You Aren’t Physically Hungry:
Rather than having this type of hunger/fullness scale control us or turn into just another diet. It’s important to remember that this is your life after all and the simple act of eating when you aren’t hungry physically is not only completely normal but also perfectly fine. Consider when you are out with friends enjoying yourself and you find you start nibbling on foods even though you weren’t physically hungry. It’s a social thing and it is completely normal to engage in eating with your friends.
There is also emotional eating as well, such as eating when you are bored, lonely, sad etc. The act of eating emotionally is not the problem. In fact, it is kind of a blessing. Thats right! It actually works in a way to let you know that something in your life requires your attention. Maybe you need more self-care time, more sleep, more love or a change of scenery. You can read more about emotional eating over here.
You can also check out my free guide on emotional and binge eating. It has a workbook too!
Final Thoughts on Hunger and Fullness
Don’t beat yourself up if you find you are eating when you aren’t physically hungry. It’s perfectly normal to do this from time to time. It doesn’t mean you failed at intuitive eating or mindful eating. This isn’t a diet and there is no success or failure.
I can still remember that feeling of satisfaction and fullness I felt after being out at a restaurant to eat. Normally, I would have ate more than I wanted to just because there was still food on the table, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to feel overly full and sick and I knew that if I ate any more I would. So I pushed my fork and plate away and that was that. And yeah, there are always leftovers in this case too!
If you want to ditch dieting and food restriction for good and learn how to make intuitive eating a part of your life, you can check out my online 12-week program- be nourished.
I would love to hear from you, so feel free to let me know if this post resonated with you. Do you have any questions about hunger and fullness in regards to intuitive eating?