The hunger-fullness scale has become an incredibly popular nutrition and intuitive eating tool, however, you may be wondering exactly what it is and what to do with it, so here’s a complete breakdown of the hunger-fullness scale, what it is, how it works, and how to use it.
What is the Hunger-Fullness Scale of Intuitive Eating?
The hunger-fullness scale is an intuitive eating tool designed to help you get in touch with your hunger and fullness cues. After years of dieting, calorie counting, food avoidance, or emotional eating behaviors, it’s common to lose touch with our body’s natural messaging system, as well as how to interpret these messages. (1) Also known as the hunger-satiety scale, the hunger-fullness scale is a practical tool that can help you get back in tune with your body and better respond to different levels of hunger and fullness.
What are hunger and fullness?
Hunger is the body’s way of telling you it needs energy. A feeling of hunger may be experienced through a growling tummy or, if you’re very hungry, you may feel weak, tired, or dizzy, and these physical feelings remind us to eat. (2)
Fullness is a feeling of relief we experience when hunger goes away. One may experience fullness by a feeling of satiety and a slightly full stomach or, if you’re very full, you may feel stuffed, uncomfortable, or even sick, and these physical feelings remind us to stop eating. (3)
While hunger and fullness cues will vary from one person to the next from one day to the next, they remain incredibly helpful in the sense that they are constantly adapting to our ever-changing needs. When we are in tune with our hunger and fullness cues and learn to respond to them appropriately, we are able to give our bodies exactly what it needs.
How does the hunger-fullness scale work?
The hunger-fullness scale ranks our hunger and fullness cues on a scale of 1 to 10, where each number on the scale correlates to a different level of hunger and fullness. While it’s important to note that the scale is strictly a guide and different people will experience hunger and fullness differently, the scale ranks as follows:
- Painfully hungry, may feel sick.
- Ravenous, very, very distracting.
- Very hungry, eager to eat something.
- Slightly empty stomach, could wait if needed.
- Neutral, not hungry or full.
- Satisfied, slightly full stomach.
- Totally satisfied, hunger is gone for a while.
- Little too full, don’t want anything else to eat.
- Uncomfortably full, very stuffed.
- Painfully full, may feel sick.
To use the scale, before you decide to eat, take a moment to check in with yourself to see where you rank on the hunger-fullness scale. Once you’ve identified where you rate your hunger or fullness, consider the following:
Aim to start eating when you reach 3 or 4 on the scale. At this range, you are physically hungry but not ravenous and are more likely to make food choices that support your body’s physical needs that are not influenced by emotions.
Try to limit reaching a 1 or 2 on the scale. While life happens and you may certainly find yourself in this range once in a while, it’s best to avoid being in this range on a regular basis. This range may cause you to make less-than-ideal food choices and has the potential to lead you to overeat.
Consider stopping eating when you reach 6 or 7 on the scale. At this range, you are satisfied but not uncomfortable and you’ve typically consumed enough to keep you energized until your next meal. To be sure, you can always stop eating and wait 20 minutes to reassess how you’re feeling, as it can take a bit of time for fullness to truly set in. (4)
Try to avoid reaching 8, 9 or 10 on the scale. Although we will all eat beyond our fullness cues from time to time, such as holidays and celebrations, it’s best to avoid reaching this range regularly. Not only can we feel physically uncomfortable in this range, but it may invoke feelings of guilt, shame, and self-sabotage, particularly for women. (5)
The objective is to remain between a 3 and 7 on the scale as much as possible. By eating in this range you’ll feel satisfied, nourished, and more in control of your physical cues and food choices. By using the scale regularly, you learn how to tell the difference between true, physical hunger and psychological hunger that is caused by emotions, like stress, boredom, sadness, or happiness.
Tips for Using the Scale
1. Remember, the scale is strictly a tool. It’s important to use the scale as a guide and not feel the need to follow the numbers “perfectly”. Your hunger will fluctuate from one day to the next and not everyone will experience the scale in the exact same way.
2. Check-in before, during, and after you eat. The scale is designed to be used before, while, and after you eat. Not only can it help you to determine your hunger levels before you eat and your fullness level so you know when to stop eating, but it can help you reflect on how you feel once you’ve finished eating so you can take the feelings and lessons away with you for next time.
3. Observe your behavior, don’t judge. Be honest with yourself, while being kind to yourself. Using the hunger-fullness scale is not about being right or wrong or good or bad, it’s about getting in touch with your body and discovering what it’s trying to tell you. Look for areas of opportunity that emerge and how you may be able to support yourself or ask others for support.
4. Take note of patterns. As you continue to use the scale, take note of patterns, habits, and behaviors. Do you experience hunger at certain times during the day? Do certain activities or moments during the day trigger hunger? What happens when you wait too long to eat? When you eat when you’re not hungry, what do you notice about your feelings?
5. Practice. Learning to identify and interpret your hunger and fullness cues is a practice that will take time to master and something you will continue to use when you do. Don’t put pressure on yourself to figure this out quickly, take your time, continue to use the hunger-fullness scale at every meal, and eventually, like any habit or skill, you’ll get better at it and it will become more second nature.
The Bottom Line
The hunger-fullness scale is an intuitive eating tool that you can use to get more in touch with your hunger and satiety cues. By ranking your hunger and fullness level on a scale of 1 to 10 before, during, and after you eat, you can before more in tune with your body’s natural cues and help you detect the differences between eating for hunger and eating more than you want or need for emotional reasons or reasons outside of physical hunger.
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