intuitive eating hunger scale

How to Use the Intuitive Eating Hunger Scale: Understanding Your Hunger Cues

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The intuitive eating hunger scale is a valuable tool for understanding your hunger cues. This scale can help you figure out how hungry you are, what foods appeal to you, and when you are full. Using this scale can help you make better food choices and eat intuitively. In this blog post, I will discuss how to use the intuitive eating hunger scale and provide a printable PDF version of the scale for you to use!

how to use the hunger fullness scale
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What is the hunger fullness scale?

The intuitive eating hunger fullness scale is a simple tool that can help you to become more attuned to your body’s natural hunger cues. The scale runs from 1 to 10, with 1 being extremely hungry and 10 being so full that you feel uncomfortable.

The intuitive eating hunger fullness scale can be a helpful tool for those who are trying to break free from restrictive dieting behaviors. By becoming more aware of your body’s natural hunger signals, you can learn to trust yourself around food and make peace with eating.

What are hunger cues?

You’ve probably heard the term before, but what are hunger cues? Hunger cues are physical or emotional sensations that indicate that your body needs food. Hunger cues can be different for everyone, but some common ones include:

  • feeling lightheaded
  • Feeling dizzy or shaky
  • feeling irritable, anxious, or moody
  • having difficulty concentrating
  • feeling a growling stomach

Of course, everyone is different and your hunger cues may change from day to day. However, important to listen to your hunger cues and eat when your body tells you to. Some people are more in tune with their hunger cues than others, but intuitive eating is all about listening to your body and giving it what it needs.

How chronic dieting affects hunger cues

One of the side effects of chronic dieting is that it can affect hunger cues. As we’ve seen, hunger is a physiological response that occurs when the body needs more energy.

However, dieting can disrupt this process, causing hunger cues to become difficult to determine. This can lead to chaotic eating patterns.

Additionally, chronic dieting can also lead to a decrease in the body’s ability to respond to hunger cues. This means that even when the body does need more energy, dieters may not feel hunger cues and as a result, may not eat enough. This can lead to slower metabolism.

Can I trust my hunger cues?

Can I trust my hunger cues? This is a question I get a lot as a Registered Dietitian. And my answer may surprise you… yes. But it may take some time to reach that point. Let me explain.

After years of dieting, many of us have lost touch with our hunger cues and no longer know when or how much to eat.

It may take some trial and error to learn how to listen to your body and respond accordingly. But with time and practice, it is possible to relearn how to trust your hunger cues and make peace with food.

How do you use the intuitive eating hunger scale?

Hunger scale for intuitive eating eating
Download this handy, printable intuitive eating hunger scale PDF

To use the scale, simply check in with yourself throughout the day and rate how hungry or full you feel on a scale of 1-10. Use this scale to rate how hungry you are before and after you eat.

During the day, try to see which number you would rate your hunger at.  If you’re not sure, just rule out the ones you know are not it, then go with what YOU feel is the most representative at that particular moment. BTW, there is no right or wrong answer! And, remember this is just a tool to help you learn to determine your own body signals.

This hunger rating scale ranges from 1 to 10, where 1 is extreme painful hunger and 10 is extreme painful fullness. By regularly practicing checking in with your hunger, this method will help you listen and become more in tune to your hunger( and fullness) cues. 

Of course, you don’t always have to wait until you’re starving to eat. If you’re following the intuitive eating philosophy, you would eat when you start feeling hungry and stop when you’re satisfied (around an 7 or 8).

This may sound simple enough, but it can be difficult to do in practice. Try to approach your hunger with a compassionate, nonjudgmental curiosity. Just try to write down in each box which number feels more “right” during each meal.

An easy way is to notice which physical sensations are associated with each number. This way, you have a clear way to “visualize” your hunger cues. Try it for a day or two and see what you learn about yourself!

Hunger scale 1-10

  1. Extreme hunger: You may experience physical symptoms such as dizziness, shakiness or nausea
  2. Very hungry: Your stomach may feel empty. You may also feel anxious, experience headaches or feel “hangry” (you know, hungry and angry)
  3. Hungry: Hunger sign s such as stomach growling or gurgling are common. This may be a good place to start eating from a place of comfortable hunger, since your mind is not overwhelmed with anxious hunger thoughts.
  4. Somewhat hungry: You may be having thoughts about food, but you can still wait if necessary to eat. Your mind is not overwhelmed by eating thoughts. This is another good place to start eating if you feel the need to do so.
  5. Neutral: You’re not feeling hunger or fullness. You feel comfortable and not preoccupied with food.
  6. Mildly full: You have taken the “edge” off of your hunger, but you may not yet comfortably full or satisfied. If you feel like you still need to eat some more in order to feel satisfied, by all means do so.
  7. Satisfied: You feel comfortably full and maybe even satisfied, depending on your food choices. You may recognize that if you eat a bit more, your stomach may feel uncomfortable, or you may feel like you still need an extra bite or two to feel satisfied.
  8. Very full: Your stomach may feel slightly uncomfortable. Your last 2-3 bites did not taste as good as when you began eating, and you may have lost interest in food at this point.
  9. Stuffed: Your stomach feels uncomfortable. It may also feel like your stomach is pushed up against your esophagus. The food probably doesn’t taste as good as it did at the beginning.
  10. Extremely full: You may experience stomach pain and may even feel sick. Nausea and reflux may be common symptoms at this stage.

It’s important, when you’re using the hunger scale, to consider the following. If you consistently stay between 1-5, it means you’re probably restricting food (not eating enough). If you feel hungrier towards the end of the day, take a look at what you ate during the day to determine if your meals may need to be more substantial.

If you consistently eat between 6-9 and rarely feel physical hunger, it means you’re probably engaging in emotional eating. There’s nothing inherently wrong with emotional eating. It’s a signal that there are emotional needs that need your attention.

Our bodies are most comfortable eating from a 3 to a 7/8. However, remember that this is just a tool to guide you in your intuitive eating journey, not a set of rules.

How do you read a fullness cue?

Just like when we honor our hunger, respecting our fullness requires knowing what to look for. Specifically, what does comfortable fullness feel like? Well, since we’re all different, this sensation will not feel the same for all of us. Let’s dive right in and see how this works.

There are so many ways to describe fullness and satiety cues, but you have to tune into your own body and be mindful and pay attention to your eating so you can discover what it feels like for you in your body. Shifting your focus on paying attention to your eating will help you with this. But just in case, here are some common fullness/satiety cues:

  • Subtle stomach fullness
  • Feeling neither hungry nor full
  • Feeling satisfied and content

If you are not eating enough and are underweight, you may feel very full after eating a small amount of food because your digestion has slowed down. This is because your metabolism has slowed down during the time you were in starvation mode.

You may have to feel this fullness as your metabolism starts working normally again. Once your body has been restored to health, you will be able to eat more food without feeling as full. If you need any help with this, make sure to consult with a health professional. I offer 1:1 virtual counseling sessions if you’re interested.

When should I eat using the hunger scale?

When you’re first starting out with intuitive eating, it can be helpful to check in with yourself regularly throughout the day and rate your hunger on the scale. That way, you can get a sense for how your hunger ebbs and flows throughout the day.

Generally speaking, you should aim to eat when you’re at a 3 or 4 on the hunger scale. Eating when you’re any hungrier than that can lead to chaotic eating, and waiting too long to eat can leave you feeling sluggish and irritable.

If you’re not sure where you fall on the hunger scale, try to ask yourself the following questions: “Am I feeling lightheaded or irritable?” “Do I have enough energy to focus on tasks?” “Is my stomach growling?” If you answer yes to any of these questions, then you’re likely closer to a 3 or 4 on the hunger scale. Learning to listen to your hunger cues is an important step in developing a healthy relationship with food.

Of course, there will be times when you need to eat outside of your ideal window – and that’s okay! Just try to be mindful of how you’re feeling and why you’re eating. Trusting your hunger cues is a process, but with time and practice, it will become second nature.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, understanding your hunger cues is key to success with intuitive eating. By being attuned to how you feel before, during, and after meals, you can start to get a sense for what works for your body and what doesn’t. The Intuitive Eating Hunger Scale is one tool that can help you do just that.

If you’re curious about trying out intuitive eating or have been struggling to make it work for you, give this scale a try! You may be surprised at how much you can learn about your unique hunger signals!

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