Gone are the days of relying on a diet to tell you what, how much, and when to eat! The intuitive eating hunger scale is a tool that helps increase awareness of your body’s hunger and fullness cues. Using this scale can help you figure out when to eat and when to stop eating based on your body’s unique needs.
If you feel as though you can’t trust your body (or your brain) to tell you when and how much to eat, you’re not alone. The multi-billion dollar diet industry got that way by preying on our insecurities and teaching us that we can’t be trusted.
If we’re eating what, when and how much we want, then we’re sure to eat way too much of the wrong foods, ruining our health and bodies forever. (that’s what the diet industry would like to believe anyway!)
We want to be healthy, desired, loved, and feel great, so we buy into it, squashing the innate wisdom that our bodies have and replacing it with a diet plan.
How honoring hunger and fullness helps your body
Does this sound familiar? You stick to a certain number of calories or eat during specific windows of time. You end your meal, not entirely full or satisfied, then the next time you’re supposed to eat you feel out of control and can’t possibly get enough into your body fast enough. You either load up on “free” foods to fill the void or blow the diet entirely and feel sick, stuffed, and guilty.
Intuitive eating helps you to regain, listen to, and honor your hunger and fullness cues so that you can calmly eat the right amount of food for your body at the moment. Calorie counts have you believing that your body needs the same amount of energy each day when in reality your needs change day-to-day.
You may have noticed this when some days you’re much hungrier than usual and other days you’re easily filled and don’t often feel the need to eat. If you haven't felt this, it may be because your hunger and fullness cues need some help coming back to the surface.
Eating when you’re hungry (but not starved to the point of hang-er) sets you up for a calm eating experience where you’re more likely to feel satisfied and end your meal feeling comfortably full. Stopping when you’re comfortably full helps you feel energized to move through your day for another 3-4 hours until signs of hunger begin to show up again.
What is a hunger fullness scale?
The hunger fullness scale is a tool that encourages increased awareness of your hunger levels and helps you choose to eat and stop eating at a time that is right for your body in the moment.
When you’re just beginning to use your body’s cues to help you decide how much to eat, this scale makes a huge difference! Learning the possible signs of each level of hunger and fullness can help you decide how your own body tells you it needs energy and that it has had enough.
Each level of hunger and fullness is ranked by number and shows you the possible ways you might feel when you’re at this level. Your body is unique and the way you feel when you’re ready to eat is likely different from someone else. So, don’t worry if one of the terms under a number feels foreign to you- you may just not experience that sensation, and that's okay.
The Intuitive Eating Hunger Scale
- 0- Totally empty, dizzy, nauseous
- 1- Ravenous, irritable, headache
- 2- Very hungry, belly growls, eager to eat
- 3- Empty feeling, hungry, ready to eat
- 4- 1st sign of hunger, begin to think of food
- 5- Neutral, not hungry, not full
- 6- Beginning to feel full
- 7- Comfortable fullness
- 8- Very full, slightly uncomfortable
- 9- Stuffed, clothing feels tight
- 10- Painfully full, sick feeling
How do you use the intuitive eating hunger scale?
You see the numbers and get the gist, but how do you actually use the scale? The first time you use the scale, it’s helpful to be in an environment where you can pay attention to your body and eat slowly and intentionally.
You won’t be assigning numbers and thinking about the chart forever, but it will take some conscious effort in the beginning, especially if it's been some time since you’ve listened to your body cues.
Step 1: Identify your hunger level before eating
When you’re starting to think about food or the time you’ve set aside to eat is getting close, start checking in. Try to feel your body sensations and decide where on the scale you fall.
If you’re able to, try starting to make or plan your food around a hunger level 3-4. You’re hungry enough that deciding what you feel like eating is possible. This way, by the time you have food on your plate, you’ll likely be between a 2-3, ready to eat and enjoy your meal.
This is how eating works in a perfect world- which we all know is almost never the case. Maybe you get stuck in traffic and you’re already at a 1 by the time you get home, or you have evening plans and have to eat because of practical hunger– you’re only at a 4 or 5 when you eat your meal.
There is no right or wrong time to eat since every meal, every day, and everyone’s circumstances are different. Using this scale before you eat will help you to get up close and personal with the way your body tells you its hunger level.
Step 2: Halfway point check-in
When half of your food is gone, take a moment to feel the sensations in your body and the food you’re eating. Ask yourself- “am I still hungry?”, “am I full?”, “how much more do I think I need to eat before I’ll be comfortably full and satisfied?”.
Also, use this as an opportunity to determine how good the food you’re eating is tasting? Is it still as good as it was when you started? Are you craving a new taste or sensation?
This is a great way to make sure your satisfaction from your meal meets your satiation (fullness level). If the taco you’re eating isn’t tasting as good anymore and you’d really like something sweet, maybe switch to that piece of chocolate or banana to satisfy the new craving you have.
If your sweet tooth often sends you into a level 9 (uncomfortably full) because you wait to satisfy it until your meal is over, this strategy is worth a shot!
Step 3: Feel and honor your fullness
Have you ever ended a meal feeling so stuffed you could unbutton your jeans (or, let’s be real- roll down your high-waisted leggings) and still feel awful?
Learning how to cue in and identify your hunger can help remove the discomfort after eating so that you feel energized and ready to continue on with your day. Ideally, you’d want to stop eating at a 7- feeling comfortable, full, and content with your body.
Is it a bad thing if you eat past that comfortable fullness? Nope. It’s OK to end some meals feeling a little too full because the food you’re eating was just so good. But if this happens frequently, you may want to dive in and see if there’s something else going on that’s leading you to frequently overeat.
What if you end your meal before you’re comfortably full? This could be one of the reasons you’re feeling hungry only an hour or two after you eat a meal. Approaching snacks like this can be a good strategy to stave off hunger, but not for meals that you want to stay with you for a few hours or more.
Get in touch with how your body feels at each fullness level and explore where you often stop, how you feel after meals, and use the information as you learn how your body prefers to be nourished.
When should you use the hunger fullness scale?
This hunger scale isn’t meant to be a rule book. It’s a tool to help you explore how your body feels when you should be reaching for a snack, sitting down to eat, or putting down the fork.
Your body has an internal regulating system to tell you when it needs energy and when it’s hand enough. Learning to listen to and honor these cues can help you to feel confident in eating without diet plans, nourish your body with the amount of energy it needs at any given time, and maintain your body’s own healthy set point weight.
Use the scale until you’re confident in your ability to identify your different hunger and fullness levels. Eventually, you’ll be an expert at listening to and honoring your body’s hunger and fullness signals!
Need more help?
If you’re still a little sticky on what intuitive eating is or you’re not sure how to get started, head to the intuitive eating guide for beginners to learn more or check out intuitive eating coaching to see if that’s the next best step for you!