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The Hunger and Fullness Scale: How to Begin Honoring Your Hunger

For those individuals who have been stuck in the constant loop of diet culture, the idea of beginning to trust your body and its internal cues can feel really scary and overwhelming. Diet culture likes to make you think that without external devices (ie calorie counting, macros, good/bad foods, etc.), you will spin out of control and won’t be able to manage eating on your own. Of course, when you do eventually break free of those rules it can feel out of control. Remind yourself that this is not a lack of willpower or something to feel guilty of! This is a completely normal reaction to constant deprivation and dieting!

As babies, every person is born with instinctive hunger and fullness cues. Imagine when a baby is hungry. They cry when they are hungry and turn their heads away when they are satiated. However, many people have lost touch of their own hunger and fullness cues and only feel they can experience extreme hunger or extreme fullness. Others may feel that they do not feel any cues at all! Building back awareness and intention around these hunger and fullness cues is one way to begin building trust in yourself again and begin giving your body back the respect it needs around nutrition. One of these tools includes the hunger-fullness scale.

Hunger and Fullness Cues

Something that a lot of people forget is that our body has a built in tool to determine when to start eating and when to stop eating. The hypothalamus is responsible for and can sense the need for energy intake, monitors energy stores, and regulates appetite in response to your individual energy needs. Similarly when our bodies urge us to pee when we need to urinate, a dry mouth indicates a need for water, etc, hunger cues sent by your hypothalamus means you need food!

The whole point of this is that every person is individual and has different needs everyday. We all are not the same and need very different things. Diet culture likes to make you think that there is a set number of calories you need per day and that multiple people need the same amount of nutrition daily. This is not true! Our bodies and their metabolism changes every single day based on hormonal changes, physical activity, sleep patterns, etc. Becoming attuned to your hunger and fullness cues is our bodies way of appropriately responding to these varying needs.

Hunger and Fullness Scale

Similarly to how every person’s needs are different, every person’s hunger cues can be different as well! It differs from person to person and can be felt in multiple places, not just the stomach. In fact, in many cases a person’s extreme hunger is displayed in a growling stomach and there are some less noticeable signs of hunger displayed before this occurs! In an ideal world, we would be eating when these more subtle signs are displayed so as to not get to the point of extreme hunger later on.

Here are some ways you may feel hunger (keep in mind, every person can have different hunger cues. Bringing intention to your own personal hunger cues is an important step in the process!):

  • Tired or low-energy, sluggish

  • Trouble concentrating, headaches, dizzy, unable to focus

  • Irritable, hangry, on edge

  • Growling or rumbling stomach, an empty feeling, gnawing feeling in the stomach

The hunger and fullness scale is a scale from 1-10 that allows you to better notice and feel your own hunger and fullness cues.

Hunger on the scale ranges from 1-5

  • A 5 on the scale is neutral. You are not hungry nor are you full at this point.

    • A 4 indicates an early feeling of hunger without a ton of urgency to eat.

    • Moving down the scale, a 3 indicates more evident hunger and some urgency to eat food.

    • At 2, you may be feeling irritable and may have a headache. At this point, you may also be feeling ravenous.

    • A 1 on the scale is almost similar to a painful, primal hunger. You may begin to feel nauseous, dizzy, or shaky due to intense hunger.

Fullness on the scale ranges from 6-10

  • A 6 on the scale indicates that your stomach is no longer empty, but you are still feeling a desire for food.

    • A 7 indicates a satisfied, not stuffed feeling. Your stomach feels satiated and you are not physically uncomfortable.

    • At 8, you may feel slight discomfort and may feel uncomfortably full. You may feel slightly distended roundness/fullness to your stomach.

    • 9 indicates “Thanksgiving day” fullness, you may feel past uncomfortably full at this point.

    • A 10 indicates a binge level of fullness, you feel physically sick at this point.

Remember that you do not need to be perfect at using this scale! This scale is one tool and is simply a beginning point to learning more about your body’s cues. If you’re not sure what number you’re falling at, that’s ok! Go with your gut instinct and continue to give yourself grace in the process as you learn more about yourself and your cues.

Ideally, you want to eat around a 3 or a 4. At this point, you are not uncomfortably hungry and you are still able to make rational choices around food. Sometimes things happen and we are not able to eat at this point. Some days, we may get to a 1 or 2 because we’re busy and things come up. Don’t beat yourself down about that! We can still practice intentionality around our food even if we are at this point.

Usually, stopping around a 7 is a good reference. However again, things happen! Sometimes you may miss the mark and end up feeling overly full, and that’s OK! The hunger and fullness scale is NOT a rule of intuitive eating! We aren’t going to be perfect with our hunger and fullness cues every second of every day, and that’s not the point! The point is that we are beginning to build up that trust in our body’s cues and are working to rebuild a more positive relationship with our bodies. I hope this post has been helpful in beginning to introduce you to this topic! If you are feeling overwhelmed with this idea, keep in mind that this is just an intro and this scale is just one tool. If you do feel that you are curious about this topic or want more support, we have resources and are always open to chat with you for a consultation if you are curious about our services!

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