There are so many different diets that specify what you should eat, how much, and when. However, what is often not addressed in many diet plans is how to actually assess your hunger and become a more mindful eater. Mindful eating is eating with awareness. It’s eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full.
It is so important to learn how to tune into your body’s own internal hunger and fullness cues. This is knowing how to recognize when you’re physically hungry and also when you are full. The more you can become consistently aware and mindful of these hunger cues, the better you’ll feel. With this, the more you will naturally provide your body with what it needs in the right amounts.
There are many reasons why you may be eating without awareness of your hunger – distractions, stress, emotions, and eating by the clock. This can lead to overeating, weight gain, and feelings of bloat or discomfort if you are not listening to your body.
One helpful tool to better tune into your hunger and fullness cues is a hunger scale. By using this, you learn how to practice mindful eating and be able to identify when is the optimal time to eat and when you should stop.
I often use the Hunger Scale with my clients, in order to guide them to become more mindful eaters. The scale ranges from 1-10, with 1 being ravenous and 10 being uncomfortably full. Remember, it takes your body at least 20 minutes to digest a meal and to feel full, so taking your time with eating can truly help in this process.
Here are the 10 Hunger Scale levels in detail:
Levels 1 and 2 – Don’t let yourself get to this point. If you are at this point, you will have less control over your portions and your food choices.
1 – Ravenous – You waited way too long to eat and now you may be experiencing a headache, dizziness, and a lack of concentration. You have no energy and you need to lie down.
2 – Starving – You are losing energy and feel irritable and cranky. Your stomach feels empty and you have a strong urge to eat.
Levels 3-6 – Start eating in this window of time. You will start to feel hungry at this time, but will have more control over what and how much you eat.
3 – Hungry – You are starting to think about food. Your body is giving you a signal that it’s time to eat (stomach starting to growl, emptying).
4 – Pangs – You are starting to feel physically and psychologically satisfied from eating and you have enough food to keep going.
5 – Satisfied – You are fully satisfied and feel full. This is a good time to slow down or stop eating, as you may end up overly full if you continue.
6 – Full – You are feeling full past the point of satisfaction, but you can still find room for a little more.
Levels 7-10- Stop eating here. Many times if you’re distracted you may continue to eat at this point. However if you do, you will probably become uncomfortably full.
7 – Very full – Your body is telling you you’re done but your mind says keep going, so you take a few more bites.
8 – Discomfort – Your stomach is starting to hurt.
9 – Stuffed – You probably know you should have stopped, but it was there and it tasted so good. Now you feel uncomfortable, tired, and bloated.
10 – Sick – You feel physically miserable, don’t want to move, and don’t want to talk or look at food again anytime soon.
I hope you find this hunger scale helpful to move you towards becoming a more mindful eater so you can feel your best. No matter what your health goals are, being in tune with your own body’s internal hunger signals will help give your body what it needs at the times it needs it most.