Last week, we started our discussion on hunger. In my article, “Hunger- Are You Hearing It?” I discussed all the ways you can experience hunger in your body, many of which you can easily miss if you are not attuned to your body. This week, I will give you a tool to use to rate your hunger and fullness—the Hunger and Fullness Scale.
This rating scale can be a helpful guide to determine where you are using an external number to label how you are experiencing hunger. When you are learning to become attuned to your body again, or maybe it feels like for the first time, it can be helpful to have a guide to reference.
You cannot forget the importance of self-care as you relearn this process of attunement and assess where you are on this scale. You will see this more and more, and you go through this healing process and reconnection with yourself. You will know when you are not taking good physical self-care measures by where you land on the scale and as you continue the practice of paying attention to your body’s signals. This scale also allows you to see more clearly when you are not hungry and eating for emotional or other reasons.
If you are waiting too long between meals, skipping meals, or not eating enough at meals, such as grazing or snacking through a meal, you will find yourself at 0-2 on the hunger scale, likely later in the day. A good example is clients that I have had that have done intermittent fasting. Once that window of time opens to eat, they are overly hungry and feel like they are binging.
If you tend to be an emotional eater, you can look at when you are eating to silence your thoughts, manage stress or a hard day, or even to relax, where you are on this scale. This is where I discussed last week, emotional eaters tend not to recognize early signs of hunger, so there can be a physical set-up sometimes in the mix. But if you have eaten, using this scale can be a good reflection of the emotional eating happening based on where you are on this scale.
Whenever you start to eat in an over-hungry place, you will almost always land in over full. When you are beginning to eat at 0-2 on the hunger scale, you are in what is called primal hunger. Primal hunger is when your brain is taking over and is saying, “FEED ME!!!” When you are in this place, you are eating very quickly, feeling strong urgency to eat, and feeling out of control with eating. All that is going through your mind at that moment is that you need food, and you need food now! When you are in this place when you start eating, you cannot stay connected to your body. You miss any signals of satisfaction.
When you begin eating in an extreme hunger place, nine times out of ten, you end up in an extremely full place. You end up likely at a 9 or 10 on the fullness scale, where you are uncomfortably full to painfully full. It is hard to find a pleasant place when your body has felt threatened with starvation. That primal hunger is actually a protective mechanism of the body. So, you have not lost any “self-control” when this happens. You weren’t listening or ignored the nudges of hunger, and your body is fighting back!
This middle area is the “ideal” when it comes to eating. It is where you do not experience any urgency with eating. It can be labeled a “pleasant or even polite hunger.” When you are experiencing hunger in this place, you can feel hunger approaching, and it feels very manageable to respond to. You can tell by the descriptions of each of these numbers that you need to be fairly attuned to your body to tell the differences.
Even the difference to be at three versus a four. If you have been someone who has skipped meals or have gone long periods of time without eating, you might feel that you are more at a four or even a five when you start to shorten that time period or eat a meal that you hadn’t been (remember eating every 3-4 hours). The key is to begin to see how your body starts to match up the more consistent you are with staying consistent with that three to four-hour timeframe.
When you are eating from a comfortable hunger, you have a higher likelihood of stopping at a more comfortable fullness. When you have been a dieter, fullness tends to be the harder of the two to find a comfortable place with. When I first see a client, I ask them if they can identify hunger and fullness cues. More times than not, hunger is ok, but the fullness is hard. Usually, the experience is feeling overfull. Usually, they start eating from more of an over-hungry place but just do not realize it.
Be sure to think about your environment when you are eating. If you are distracted while you are eating, such as watching television, on your computer, or phone, you will have a harder time assessing where you are fullness-wise. Typically the meal is over when the food is gone versus you connecting in to determine how much your body actually wanted and needed. If you are used to being distracted, going to sit at a table will feel awkward and probably uncomfortable. So start with one or two meals a week undistracted at a table or counter, and assess the difference in how you are able to hear your body versus what your experience is typically when you are distracted. The body talk volume will be up!
The Hunger and Fullness Scale
Hunger and Fullness Scale
|Feeling||Rating||Description of Sensation|
|0||Painful hunger. Intense and urgent. Primal hunger.|
|Over Hungry||1||Irritable, “give me anything.”|
|2||Very hungry. Hard to decide what you want to eat.|
|3||Hungry and ready to eat. No urgency.|
|Comfortable Hunger/Fullness||4||A little bit hungry, know you could wait to eat.|
|5||Neutral. You don’t feel hungry or full|
|6||Can feel food is in your belly.|
|7||Comfortable. Feel pleasantly full and satisfied.|
|Over Full||8||A little too full. Can sense you’ve eaten a little too much.|
|10||Painfully full. Can feel “Thanksgiving full.”|
This week, try to be mindful and check-in where you are with hunger and fullness as you eat. Remember this is a practice. If you have been a dieter, you have been taught to ignore these cues. You are learning the language of your body and learning to listen to your rhythm. Think about where you experience hunger. Do you feel varying intensities of hunger in different places in your body? Connecting to where you feel hunger can be clues to how intense your hunger may be.
Most importantly, do not expect that you will always land in a comfortable area. Trying to find the amount of food that will sustain you and fulfill you is kind of like a game. You will get it wrong and be off, a lot before you get it right. Stay patient and curious. These will be your keys to be able to look at the information that your body gives you and how you experience hunger and fullness as data rather than judgment. So, listen up and discover what your body has to say!