Being able to tell whether or not we are hungry or full is a skill with which we are born.
However, years and years of unhealthy eating habits (i.e. not eating enough whole foods and eating too much processed junk) has severely impaired the natural hunger and satiety cues of millions (possibly billions) around the world, leading to the current obesity pandemic.
The good news is that it is possible to get your body’s hunger and fullness cues working in proper order again, just as it did when you were a tiny tot...but, it’s going to take a little bit of work on your part.
No need to worry or stress though. The steps are simple, and you can start using them right now!
It all begins with understanding something called the hunger scale.
What is the Hunger Scale?
The hunger scale is a tool developed that helps individuals gauge when is the best time to start eating as well as when it’s time to stop. The scale ranges from one to 10.
- 1 --Beyond Hungry: “You may have a headache and experience dizziness and a lack of concentration. Your body feels totally out of energy and you need to lie down.”
- 10 -- Beyond full: “This is a typical Christmas Day sort of feeling – you are physically miserable, don’t want to or can’t move, and feel like you never want to look at food again.”
As you can probably guess, neither end of the spectrum is ideal. Generally speaking, most eat comfortably when they are between 3–6 on the scale.
Using the hunger scale may help you to listen to your body better so that you’re eating based on needs, and not just out of comfort, boredom, or distraction. This way you don’t overeat and can stay on track with your fitness and physique goals.
The hunger scale may also be a useful tool to see how well your current diet plan is working to keep your body energized, performing well and recovering during the week.
How Do I Use the Hunger Scale?
#1 Estimate Your Hunger Before You Eat
One of the easiest ways to help prevent overeating is to assess how hungry you actually are before sitting down to eat. By taking just a few moments to gauge your present hunger levels, you’ll have a better grasp on how much food to prepare/order.
If you’re at a 1 or 2 on the hunger scale, it’s probably been too long since you’ve last eaten. So, even though you may be famished, make sure to pace yourself during your meal so you don’t overeat and/or suffer GI distress on account of eating too quickly.
As we said, most people experience modest hunger (and can eat comfortably) between 3 and 6 on the hunger scale. Within this range, it’s perfectly fine (and normal) to eat, but be cognizant that you might not need that much food to reach satiety or satisfaction. A small snack, such as a scoop of protein powder or a protein bar, may do the trick.
If you do not feel hungry, yet you find yourself in front of a plate of food, ask yourself (aloud if it helps), “Do I need any food right now?”
This can help you to refocus your mindset on whether or not you’re actually hungry and in need of energy, or whether you might be eating for emotional or psychological reasons.
#2 Reassess Halfway Through Mealtime
Many of us, once we sit down to eat, don’t stop until the plate is licked clean. This is, in large part, due to upbringing. How many times were you at the dinner table and heard a parent or relative say that you couldn’t leave the table (or have dessert) until your plate was empty?
The truth is that you don’t always have to finish all of the food on your plate, especially if you’re not hungry.
As such, when you’re about halfway through with your meal, take a second to breathe and assess your current levels of fullness and satisfaction.
It’s ok to not clean your plate. Save the rest for another meal or for when you may need just a snack to tide you over until your next major meal.
#3 Do a Post-Meal Assessment
Assuming you decided to finish your meal at “halftime,” it’s now time for the post-game analysis.
Did the meal leave you feeling fulfilled and satisfied? Stuffed? Still hungry?
Taking stock of how you felt after the meal will give you an idea for how much food to eat the next go-round. Maybe you need a bit more protein, maybe some more fibrous veggies, or maybe it’s the other end of the spectrum. Maybe you made too much food, so next time you can dial back the portions so that you’re full, but not stuffed (or having to package leftovers).
Is My Hunger Meter Broken?
As you continue to practice using the hunger scale, you’ll become better at assessing true feelings of hunger and satiety.
However, if you’re someone who has been a chronic dieter (or someone who has been eating lots of processed food for quite a while), it’s going to take some time for your body’s natural hunger and satiety cues to recalibrate themselves.
The best way to “reset” is to focus on eating a healthy diet, one in which your meals are based around lean proteins, fruits, veggies, whole grains, healthy fats, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
Processed foods are high in calories, refined carbs, and fats, yet low in fiber and protein, which gives tons of energy (i.e. calories), but doesn’t do much to nourish or foster feelings of satiety.
As such, eliminating/greatly reducing the amount of processed junk in the diet and focusing on eating whole foods will help your body get back in sync.
Until that happens, it still may be tricky trying to figure out whether you’re actually hungry or full, making the goal of weight loss a bit more complicated.
Fortunately, there are a couple of things you can use to help keep hunger levels in check in addition to eating a healthy diet.
The first is a fiber supplement, such a 1UP Fiber Plus, which contains 8 grams of natural fiber plus probiotics to support gut health and digestion. Fiber helps slow down digestion and take up space in your GI tract, both of which help to signal fullness, thereby helping you eat less calories.
The second is an appetite suppressant.
1UP Appetite Suppressant is a stimulant-free weight loss aid that helps reduce appetite and cravings while encouraging feelings of fullness for longer periods of time.
- MIT. (2013). The Hunger Scale. The Center for Health Promotion and Wellness.