Harnessing the Power of the Hunger Scale in Intuitive Eating

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In a world bombarded with diet trends and conflicting nutritional advice, the concept of intuitive eating stands out as a liberating approach. Intuitive eating is a self-care eating framework guided by 10 principles, developed by two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. It isn’t just about what you eat; it’s about how you eat and the relationship you have with food and your body.

The intuitive eating hunger scale can be a great tool to help you learn to honor your hunger and feel your fullness- tuning into your body’s unique signals rather than rigidly following external diet rules or restrictions.

This scale helps us to recognize our level of hunger and figure out how fullness feels, allowing us to make food choices based on our body’s needs that are both nourishing and satisfying.

By learning to become more of an intuitive eater we can find pleasure in the pursuit of heath. And who doesn’t want more of that?

What is the Hunger Signal Scale?

The hunger signal scale serves as a compass, guiding us to reconnect with our body’s natural hunger and fullness cues. It’s a tool that helps you to respond to your own body and its varying hunger and fullness levels without adhering to strict meal plans or a set of rules.

The hunger scale encompasses a spectrum of sensations, from the extreme of being painfully hungry-this is primal hunger, very intense and urgent—to the other end of the spectrum, where you feel past fullness, stuffed. In between, there are gradations that signify different stages of hunger or satiety. These levels might include:

Ravenous: Feeling extremely hungry, often accompanied by physical symptoms like light-headedness or irritability.

Very Hungry: Recognizable hunger pangs, a growling stomach, or a noticeable drop in energy levels.

Moderately Hungry: Sensations of hunger are present, but they’re not overpowering. This might be the ideal stage to start thinking about having a meal.

Satisfied: Feeling content and no longer experiencing hunger. This stage signifies a comfortable state of having eaten enough without feeling overly full.

Comfortably Full: Feeling comfortably satisfied without any discomfort or bloating. It’s a state of being pleasantly full but not to the point of feeling overly stuffed.

Uncomfortable Fullness: Very full-you may need to unbutton your pants or remove your belt.

Hunger and fullness scale, rating 0-10.

How the Hunger Scale Helps Recognize Hunger and Fullness Cues

Understanding the hunger scale allows you to tune into your own body’s signals. By paying attention to these levels, you can learn to anticipate your body’s needs. It helps us differentiate between true physical hunger and other factors that might trigger the desire to eat, such as emotional hunger or external influences.

This intuitive eating tool enables us to become more conscious of when to eat, how much to eat, and when to stop. It empowers us to make informed choices about nourishing our bodies based on our internal cues rather than external prompts.

By acknowledging and using the hunger scale, we can develop a better relationship with food, fostering a more intuitive understanding of our body’s unique requirements. Ultimately, this aids in achieving a more balanced and satisfying way of eating that caters to our individual needs.

Why Use the Hunger Scale?

1. To reconnect your body– the hunger scale can be more than a tool for managing meal timings; it’s a journey toward reconnecting with our bodies. In today’s fast-paced world, it’s easy to lose touch with the signals our bodies send us. Using the hunger scale helps us reestablish this connection, fostering a deeper understanding of our body’s needs and rhythms.

2. To learn how to respond to your body’s cues– our bodies have an intricate way of communicating their needs. However, with the noise of external influences or hectic schedules, it’s easy to lose sight of these signals. By incorporating the hunger scale into our daily routine, we begin to listen to what our body is telling us. It’s about respecting when hunger arises and responding to it sensibly, rather than adhering to fixed mealtimes or eating out of habit or emotional triggers.

3. Help to recognize patterns– we can start noticing if hunger tends to strike at particular times or after certain activities. This awareness allows us to plan and prepare, ensuring we’re better equipped to address our body’s needs. It helps us distinguish between actual hunger and eating triggered by emotions or external factors, leading to more mindful and intentional food choices.

4. Resist diet culture- often built on strict rules and prescribed meal plans, the diet mentality can significantly disrupt our innate ability to recognize hunger and fullness cues.

How Dieting Impacts our Ability to Recognize Hunger and Fullness

Ignoring Body Signals: Diets impose food rules on what, when, and how much to eat, disregarding the body’s natural signals. Following a set meal plan can lead to overriding or ignoring hunger cues, as individuals might eat at designated times rather than in response to genuine hunger.

Loss of Trust in Self-Regulation: Strict dieting can erode our confidence in our body’s ability to regulate food intake. When external rules govern eating habits, individuals may lose trust in their innate hunger and fullness signals, resulting in a reliance on external cues rather than internal bodily wisdom.

Distorted Hunger and Fullness Perception: Diets often encourage ignoring hunger and promoting constant restraint, teaching individuals to suppress or delay their body’s signals of hunger. This practice can lead to a distorted perception of what true hunger feels like and can make it challenging to recognize genuine fullness. Often dieters are encouraged to try and ‘trick’ their bodies into fullness by drinking water before a meal or eating large volumes of low-calorie vegetables.

Cycles of Overeating or Undereating: Dieting often triggers cycles of overeating and undereating. Undereating increases our hunger hormones such as ghrelin while decreasing hormones that signal fullness, like leptin. This hormonal imbalance intensifies feelings of hunger and decreases feelings of satisfaction after eating, creating a strong drive to consume more food.

Undereating can also impact our psychological relationship with food. It can lead to feelings of deprivation, making certain foods more appealing. This psychological aspect coupled with the biological drive for energy-dense foods can result in episodes of overeating or binge eating.

How to Use the Hunger-Fullness Scale

By consistently using the hunger scale, you’ll gradually strengthen your ability to recognize and respond to your body’s cues, fostering a more intuitive and mindful approach to eating.

1. Familiarize Yourself with the Scale:

Familiarize yourself with the different levels of the hunger scale, from ravenous to comfortably full. Understand the sensations you typically have at each stage (see below: How to Make you own Scale).

2. Check-In with Yourself Regularly:

Throughout the day, take moments to check in with your body. Pause and assess where you are on the hunger scale. Ask yourself how hungry or full you feel.

3. Recognize True Hunger:

Learn to differentiate between true physical hunger and other factors that might influence your desire to eat. If you have a hard time recognizing these signs, it may be that you have spent a long time suppressing your body’s signals. Eating on a regular schedule (every 3-4 hours) for a while can be helpful.

4. Mindful Eating:

When you start to feel hunger (ideally around the moderately hungry stage), it’s a good time to eat. Choose foods that satisfy your hunger and provide nourishment. Eat slowly and mindfully, paying attention to your body’s signals as you eat.

5. Pause During Meals:

While eating, take pauses to check in with your body. Assess your current level on the hunger scale. This practice helps in recognizing the point where you transition from feeling hungry to feeling satisfied.

6. Stop Eating When Satisfied:

Aim to stop eating when you reach the satisfied stage, feeling comfortably full but not overly so. Recognize that you’ve provided your body with the nourishment it needs. Eating more slowly can help with this as it can take a while for our brains to recognize our satiety signals.

7. Reflect and Learn:

After meals, reflect on how your body feels. Did you eat to the point of discomfort or stop when comfortably full? Reflecting on your eating patterns helps in understanding your body’s cues better.

8. Practice Consistently:

Consistency is key. Regularly using the hunger scale and responding to your body’s signals will help you become more in tune with your hunger and fullness cues over time.

9. Be Patient and Kind to Yourself:

Learning to use the hunger scale is a process and a practice. Be patient and kind to yourself as you navigate this journey towards a healthier relationship with food. Embrace the learning curve without being too hard on yourself.

Remember it’s a tool not a rule.

Creating your own Scale

Designing a personalized hunger scale involves tailoring it to your own sensations and experiences. Everybody’s internal cues are unique. Begin by identifying the unique physical and mental sensations you experience at different levels of hunger and fullness.

Signs of hunger:

  • Stomach Growling: Audible noises or rumbling sensations in the stomach.
  • Feeling Empty: Sensation of an emptiness or hollowness in the stomach.
  • Light-headedness: Feeling light-headed or dizzy due to a lack of food.
  • Decreased Energy: Noticing a drop in energy levels or feeling fatigued.
  • Irritability: Feeling easily annoyed or irritable due to hunger.
  • Difficulty Concentrating: Finding it hard to focus or concentrate.
  • Headache: Experiencing a mild to moderate headache.
  • Cravings: Specific desires for certain types of food or flavors.
  • Increased Salivation: Mouth watering or increased saliva production.
  • Empty or Hollow Feeling in the Throat or Chest: Sensation of emptiness in the throat or chest area.
  • Sensations of Weakness: Feeling physically weak or shaky.
  • Nausea: Mild feelings of queasiness or an unsettled stomach.
  • Hunger Pangs: Physical sensations or twinges in the stomach area.
  • Rapid Change in Mood: Feeling sudden changes in mood or emotions related to hunger.
  • Thinking About Food: Frequently thinking about food or meals.

Signs of Fullness/Satisfaction:

  • Feeling Content: A sense of overall contentment after eating.
  • Feeling Sated: A sensation of having had enough food to feel satisfied.
  • No Longer Feeling Hungry: Absence of hunger sensations or pangs.
  • Slowed Eating: Eating pace begins to slow down naturally.
  • Feeling Comfortable: A state of physical comfort after eating.
  • Less Interest in Food: Reduced desire or interest in continuing to eat.
  • Stopped Thinking About Food: Thoughts of food dissipate.
  • Feeling Nourished: A sense of being adequately nourished or fulfilled.
  • Slight Pressure in the Stomach: Gentle pressure in the stomach area, not uncomfortable or painful.
  • Lack of Cravings: Absence of strong desires for more food or specific types of food.
  • Feeling Light: Not experiencing heaviness or bloating after eating.
  • Not Wanting to Overeat: Feeling a conscious desire not to eat more.
  • Feeling Energized: A surge in energy after consuming food.
  • Lack of Physical Discomfort: Absence of discomfort such as bloating, gas, or pain.
  • Contentment Without Feeling Stuffed: Feeling satisfied without feeling overly full or uncomfortable.

Creating your personal hunger scale is a self-exploratory process. It’s about understanding your body’s cues and crafting a tool that aligns with your experiences.

Be open to modifying or adjusting your scale if your sensations or experiences change over time. Your hunger scale could change as your understanding of your internal body cues evolve.

This customized scale will help you navigate your hunger and fullness cues more effectively, aiding in a more mindful and intuitive approach to eating.

When not to use the Hunger Scale

While the hunger scale is a helpful tool for fostering self-attunement, there are instances when it might not be suitable to use:

During Recovery from an eating disorder: In situations of severe undernourishment hunger cues might not be reliable. A structured approach under medical supervision could be more appropriate. Individuals recovering from eating disorders might find the hunger scale triggering or overwhelming. In such cases, it’s advisable to follow a healthcare professional’s guidance rather than relying solely on the hunger scale.

Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions or treatments may alter hunger cues. Individuals undergoing specific medical treatments or dealing with conditions affecting appetite might find the hunger scale less effective or inconsistent.

The hunger and fullness scale can serve as a fundamental step on the path of intuitive eating. It guides us toward a deeper understanding of our body’s signals, helping us make more mindful and informed choices about eating.

If you’re looking for more personalized guidance and support in navigating intuitive eating, tailored specifically to your needs as a midlife woman, I invite you to work with me. Book a free connection call here.

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Sandra Turnbull
Sandra Turnbull

Sandra has 30+ years experience as a Registered Dietitian and Certified Executive Coach, and is passionately committed to sharing evidence-based information while helping women thrive during the monumental transition that is menopause.

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Sandra Turnbull
Sandra Turnbull

Sandra brings over three decades of expertise both as a Registered Dietitian and a Be Body Positive facilitator. As a fellow midlife adventurer herself, she is committed to providing evidence-based guidance and compassionate support to women navigating the pivotal journey of menopause. For her it’s about nurturing bodies and minds with kindness and understanding, knowing its not just about what is on your plate; it’s also about how you feel in your skin.

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