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What is the Hunger Fullness Scale

People use the hunger fullness scale to stop dieting and know when to eat. 

A lot of people are exploring intuitive eating as a way to stop dieting and binge eating. The hunger and fullness scale is one of the tools that we use all the time with clients that helps guide people when they are on the path to intuitive eating.

This article is an in-depth educational piece to help you understand what the hunger and fullness scale is and how it works and comes into play when someone is learning to practice intuitive eating.

What is the hunger fullness scale?

You don’t have to be tied to a measuring cup to determine how much food to eat.

Instead, there is a great tool called the hunger fullness scale that you can use which helps tell you when and how much to eat.

The hunger and fullness scale is a helpful tool to help guide you with intuitive eating and food decisions. This tool helps you identify your body’s need to nourish itself.

By paying attention to your body and where you are on the scale, you can identify hunger and fullness signals.

What does the hunger and fullness scale look like?

The hunger and fullness scale looks like a long-line spectrum scale that has a range of numbers from 1 to 10. There are associated cues that fall along a spectrum of the scale range.

Numbers along the scale equal levels of food in the body and how full or empty the levels of nutrients are in the body.

Think of the scale like a car gas tank indicator gauge. In the car, the gauge shows you where the gas level is in your car gas tank. There is a range between almost empty, full of gas, as well as many levels in between.

Likewise, your body can use the hunger fullness scale as a guide about when to stop and fuel your body with how much food.

A car gas tank shows you the levels of where the gas is and helps you make decisions about when you should stop for gas.

Full gas tank

When you understand how the hunger fullness scale works, you can use the information you receive about the scale to help guide you with how much food to eat and when.

How does the hunger fullness scale work with intuitive eating?

Now that you understand what the hunger and fullness scale can do for you when intuitively eating, the real value comes from knowing how to use the scale. 

To use the scale, you first need to understand that the scale is a continuum. For some people, there are large fluctuations in how they feel food hunger and fullness signals in their body. 

Most people recognize being famished and “starving,” as well as being stuffed full. Eating on the far ends of the scale does not feel good. The challenge is that many people do not recognize the levels in the middle of the scale. 

To become more comfortable with using the scale and recognizing all levels, you first want to take time to feel your body at various levels of hunger. This means you may need to eat more regularly or a smaller portion of food to feel cues. Many people identify this spot in between being stuffed full and hungry but satisfied, as no longer physically hungry. 

To become more comfortable with using the scale and recognizing all levels, you first want to take time to feel your body at various levels of hunger.

Exploring the middle of hunger and fullness scale cues

Using the middle point on the scale of no longer physically hungry to make decisions about eating helps people feel more satisfied and comfortable in their bodies. By eating until satisfied, your body and mind can carry on with the daily tasks. These tasks are items like folding laundry, bending over to help the grandkids (without feeling like the food will come up), concentrating on building a complex project timeline, or enjoying a game of pickleball. 

When using hunger and fullness signals, you are looking internally for your signals. If you want to use the hunger and fullness scale, you need to create an environment conducive to recognizing cues. 

How to identify hunger and fullness cues when eating.

To identify your hunger and fullness cues, start by slowing down. Look at your pace of eating and for cues when you are eating food.

When you take time to slow down you can improve your connection with your body’s eating signals and what your body is feeling. Some signals tell you your body is getting what you need from food if you pay attention. Other signs tell you that you have consumed too much food to be comfortable.

Understanding the range of hunger and fullness signals with intuitive eating

There is a continuum of stronger and weaker signals the body gives about eating and when to stop.

These strong signals give clear cues when we pay attention AND respond in a manner that feels right. You also have gentler, less prominent signals from the body about when to start thinking about food.

But when you are using the hunger and fullness signals, you can use the cues to guide you on when to start making food decisions.

Where to start when Identifying hunger and fullness signals.

When looking at identifying body cues, consider the far ends of the scale are easier to identify. For instance, you may notice a heavy sensation in the body, like you can feel food inside the body.

This full sign is typically easy to recognize after you have consumed so much food that you are uncomfortably full. Because when you eat “too much,” you often do not feel well.

In order to get more comfortable with the middle ranges of food, start checking in with your body cues while you are eating. Catch yourself before you feel the overfull sensation in your body. Notice how much better that feels in your body.

Then, after experiencing feeling better by not overfilling your stomach, you may start to recognize some subtle cues alerting you that you are starting to get enough food.

This sweet spot of stopping the consumption of food at the right level provides more confidence. With improved confidence comes success with eating the right amount of food for you, along with feeling better physically.

Your ability to function well with your daily tasks happens more easily when you are properly nourished. An added benefit is you also have fewer gastrointestinal problems like indigestion. When you have just the right amount of food, you can turn your focus on other enjoyable activities of life without feeling bloated, heavy, or like food is stuck in your chest.

How to identify when you are hungry throughout the day.

Start by watching for the body’s signals. Every person has clues that the body gives that tell you what the body needs.

While you may not feel you can recognize your hunger and fullness unless they are at the far ends, this is because you have not placed focused attention on the cues needed to check in with your body and ask yourself how you feel. An easy way to get into his practice is to set a timer several times during the day.

When the timer goes off, stop what you are doing for a quick break. Take a couple of breaths and ask yourself if you feel comfortable or uncomfortable.

Comfortable = GREAT
Uncomfortable = Need more info

If you are uncomfortable, move on to assessing what the body is telling you. For instance, Is your stomach growling? See if you notice that you have been having a decreased concentration with what you had just been working on.

These subtle clues can be your body telling you something about what your body needs.

One way to identify the signals is to connect the numbers from 1-10 with how the body feels. When you are on the low end of the scale, there are typically signs the body shows hunger and the need for food.

What do your cues indicate about where you are with hunger and fullness.

Each point on the hunger and fullness scale has spots that you can connect with. These are points to understand where you are on the hunger and fullness scale.

While everyone has unique ways they feel hunger, here are a few signals you might look for in your own body.

Hunger cue examples:

  • stomach rumbling
  • lightheaded
  • decreased ability to focus.
  • thinking about food
  • headache
  • empty feeling in the stomach

Knowing how to identify when you are hungry is helpful but even more important is paying attention to the signals.

How do you physically feel when you are full and have eaten too much?

When eating too much and being at the top end of the scale, you feel full and like you have eaten too much food. Common descriptions used at this stage of eating include words such as bloated, stuffed, tired, and uncomfortable.

The physical signals identifying how a person feels often are described as tightness in the stomach, abdominal distention, or a bloated belly. Sometimes food feels like it’s stuck in the chest or throat.

Another common description is a concern of bending over for fear that food will come up into the throat.

Hunger and fullness scale numbers for intuitive eating
Hunger fullness scale for intuitive eating

Fullness Cues Examples:

  • uncomfortable
  • belly ache
  • tightness in stomach
  • abdominal distension
  • bloated belly
  • food stuck in the chest or throat
  • fear of bending over for fear food will come up

By understanding how to use the hunger and fullness scale and creating an environment that allows you to look for these cues, you can start deciphering where you are on the scale and what your cues mean.

Understanding the range of hunger fullness signals, even if you do not get cues.

By understanding the range of hunger and fullness signals, you can still identify your signals, even if you do not get the cues now.

So many people have been taught to disconnect from the range of hunger signals in their bodies.

Take for instance dieting. When following a fad diet, you often villainize certain foods and restrict the amount.  Often what happens is you limit food amounts or even types. You try to override the hunger signals by distraction techniques.

But you know what happens when you are told you cannot have something you enjoy.

Deprivation creates a desire for food even more

When you are told or feel you can not have a food you enjoy, there is a shift in your desires. You hyperfocus on that food and often want the food even more. When you eventually allow yourself the food, you may end up binge eating. Many describe these episodes as unable to satisfy their hunger.

Your body can return to hunger and fullness cues when working with intuitive eating.

Keep in mind, that your cues for hunger and fullness could be mixed up with other body self-care cues. If there is no biological hunger, then start exploring. Consider if there is an emotional desire to eat food or use food for any other need.

As an example, there could be something the body is missing, like social connections that the body is “hungry” for. Here is an example of how important directing your perceived hunger to another activity that would meet that need is the better approach.

Why does eating according to hunger and fullness help? With clear signs about when to eat, you feel more confident about your food decisions.

When you eat an appropriate amount of food for your specific body, you can feel more comfortable in your body. By listening to your body signals, you are more easily able to stop eating before you have had too much food. 

Identifying your body’s clues to look for food to eat.

Your body gives clues throughout the day about when and what it needs to fuel the body and feel better. When you take the time to look for your signals throughout your days and nights, you will more easily be able to find the clues.

Many clients easily identify when they are at the far end of the spectrum on both sides. The challenging area clients struggle with is the in-between. When identifying if food is what the body needs, you want to check internally with the body. Start by taking a breather from whatever you are doing and do a quick body scan.

Pay attention to physical and mental hunger cues

You are scanning the body, paying attention to how your body and mind feel physically and mentally. To put this idea another way, you want to decipher the cues. Unravel these cues between when you need food versus some other kind of self-care need, such as sleep.

For instance, you might feel lightheaded, faint, have a hard time thinking clearly, and often feel sick to your stomach. These uncomfortable feelings may be clues you need to eat food.

In order to identify if you are hungry, you may need first identify if you are tired, sick, irritable, or stressed, This is because when you are stressed or need another self-care practice, like sleep, you have to check in with yourself to discover. Sometimes people misinterpret their self-care needs. You may have mismatched your cues to eat with your body’s cues for self-care.

You may have mismatched your cues to eat with your body’s cues for self-care.

Since cues of physical hunger are not the only reason people eat, maybe you are emotionally eating. If you feel like your struggle is emotional eating, you might find this article, 3 steps that lead to emotional eating, helpful.

Pitfalls of ignoring signals when you don’t pay attention.

When you eat past your satisfied feeling for most meals, you are eating past what your body needs to sustain. Continuing this pattern can negatively impact some health indicators such as cholesterol and may lead to weight gain.

While eating more food on one day and less on another is common, the pattern of always eating until stuffed is not balanced. When you don’t get enough food, this empty feeling leads to decreased functioning in general and can make you feel sick. Not to mention how being so hungry impacts your food decisions. 

I mean, when you are starving, you are not looking to have a balanced meal, right? You are usually looking to get some kind of food fast, and a choice you know you will enjoy.

Identifying your hunger range early enough

By identifying the various levels of hunger and fullness before you are “too hungry to make a rational decision (i.e. starved)” you are better equipped to notice and connect with more subtle cues.

One additional problem with this form of eating is that you typically eat fast at this level of hunger and find it challenging to pay attention to your cues of satiety.

There is so much tied into the emotions of food deprivation, which leads to a rebound of overeating. This feeling may lead you to wonder Why I can’t stop eating.

A pattern of not eating enough followed by “overeating” to the point of discomfort often starts with rules. External rules that tell you what and when to eat are not reliable. Not eating enough is a form of food restriction. Food deprivation is seen from any cycle of dieting, food insecurity, medical illness impacting food intake, or even dental issues.

Connecting with what your body cues mean about eating.

So many of my clients discover when they connect to their body cues about food, they find interesting and helpful self-care information. Learning to identify and respond to “a little bit” hungry level before you are starving has some advantages.

A few advantages include being able to make more rational decisions about what would nourish the body and how much energy is needed in just the right amount.

This “just the right amount of food” is the satisfaction point that leaves you with no physical hunger feelings. This is a good spot that allows you to carry on with your day. Shoot, maybe you could even take a nice walk.

Cues you might be getting close to no longer physically hungry:

  • slowing down the pace of eating
  • lack of physical hunger cues
  • pressure in your throat
  • distention in your stomach
  • lack of enjoyment of a meal
  • feeling of satisfaction
  • increased ability to focus on a task

By being more comfortable connecting with your body’s cues about eating, you are less likely to confuse other body signals with the need to eat more food.

For instance, many discover that they are not as hungry at night. Instead, what they find is that they do not enjoy the bag of chips as much as the satisfaction of going to bed earlier.

How does responding to your cues help you?

Connecting with the cues, and accurately responding to the body with the right cue and action means you feel better. When you feel better physically and emotionally, you are working to get your needs met.

Each time you stop and assess what your body cues are telling you, you build more confidence. As a result, you improve your ability to perceive what your body is telling you and respond in a manner that feels right for you.

This is helpful because when you feel more confident in identifying your hunger and fullness cues, you will find eating all foods without dieting rules easier. What this means is you will feel less driven to make decisions based on what diet culture would say and more able to make choices based on what feels right in your body. Not to mention you can eat more foods you enjoy.

This is how you can live by my motto, which is

“There’s always room for ice cream and chocolate!”

Putting the hunger and fullness scale into your intuitive eating practice

Recognizing your hunger fullness cues is a process that moves along a continuum for many people. I know you can eat according to hunger and fullness. You used your body cues when you were a baby, and you can return to this same practice.

Some people find working with an expert like me more comforting. When you have someone to help you decipher your cues and shine the light on areas that are not as easily identifiable.

When there are no diet rules to follow or a convenient “good” food or “bad” food list to refer to, you find yourself second-guessing. That’s where we partner together to find a plan that works for you.

If you want more support with learning to eat according to the hunger and fullness scale, that’s what we do in the Platinum Program. One-on-one support so you can succeed.

Let me help you get where you want. Book a call so you can talk to me about your best next steps.

Eat smarter, not harder. Embrace intuitive eating via the hunger fullness scale.

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Kathryn Fink Martinez

Conquer food fear and overwhelm! My passion is helping guide people who are embarrassed about their struggle with food and teaching them simple habit changes that lead to a life with more energy, happiness, and the freedom to eat the foods they truly enjoy. Find a realistic food and exercise approach and remove the uncertainty about what to eat. Get started with some of the free resources on my Confidence in Eating website, especially the Bariatric Success Guide., Emotional Eating Quiz, and Binge Eating Quiz resources. I offer telehealth nutrition programs so you can live your life knowing how to nourish your body, mind, and soul.