Are you trying to do Intuitive Eating, but you’re having a hard time figuring out if you’re hungry and when to eat? It’s okay. You can use the Hunger Scale to help you figure it out.
In this article, you’ll find out why the Hunger Scale is helpful for Intuitive Eating, what the Hunger Scale is, and when and how to use it.
Plus, you’ll get a heads up about what issues might come up when using the Hunger Scale and when you might want to talk to an Intuitive Eating Dietitian.
Keep reading to find everything you want to know!
Why use a Hunger Scale with Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating uses the body’s internal cues for information on when and how much to eat. We are born with the ability to recognize when we’re hungry and full, but sometimes we lose focus on our internal cues.
Maybe we’ve been so busy during the day that we ignored our hunger cues and kept working. Maybe we followed restrictive diets that encouraged us to ignore our hunger cues to follow the diet.
Using a hunger scale helps us reconnect with our hunger cues in a tangible way.
What is a Hunger Scale?
A hunger scale is a tool with a number line from 1-10 (usually) and a corresponding written description of the degree of hunger or fullness going from one extreme to the other.
1-2 Starving-Very Hungry: Your stomach feels completely empty. You can’t think straight. You’re irritable. Your body is weak. You need to eat very soon. You’ll eat almost anything and probably a lot of it in your body’s primal attempt to not be in this extreme state.
3-4 Hungry-Somewhat Hungry: You notice mild to moderate sensations that you associate with hunger. This is a good time to decide what to eat, start preparing it, and eat.
5 Neutral: Not hungry or full.
6-7 Somewhat Full-Full: You notice that you’re getting full. You feel satisfied, energized, and ready to do whatever is next.
8, 9, 10 Very Full, Stuffed, Sick: You might imagine your stomach being completely full. You feel uncomfortable. You’re unbuttoning your pants. You need to lay down. The physical sensations at this point may bring up negative emotions. These feelings of discomfort will pass.
Using a Hunger Scale
Experimenting with the hunger scale
Finding what works best for you is an experiment.
Try using the hunger scale periodically throughout the day to see when you typically get hungry and how your daily life influences your hunger levels.
Or try using the hunger scale at meals and snacks to check-in to see how hungry or full you are before, during, and after meals and snacks.
When using the hunger scale, you’ll probably find there is a range of hunger and fullness that feels comfortable to you. You may find that you dislike feeling extremely hungry or extremely full.
Many people feel their best and are most energetic when they are in the middle of the hunger scale (around 3-7) and avoid extreme hunger or fullness.
While reflecting, you may also think about how it feels emotionally to use the hunger scale. Does it feel like a positive tool that is helping connect to inner cues? Or is it causing stress?
Patterns in intuitive eating
Using the hunger scale could help you notice patterns in your eating. With curiosity and self-compassion, ask yourself, “Am I eating in a way that consistently helps me feel my best?”
Normal eating does include overeating and undereating at times, so there’s no reason to fixate on one particular instance. It’s more helpful to take a step back and look at the patterns overall.
Remember it is normal for hunger levels to vary from one day to the next. We’re not robots. Every day is different and it’s only natural that our hunger levels are going to ebb and flow.
If you find yourself consistently eating more than is comfortable or delaying eating until you’re extremely hungry, it may be something you want to work on. Becoming aware of it is the first step in the process.
Sometimes people feel stressed out when trying to perfectly pinpoint their exact feeling of hunger or fullness. After a period of being disconnected from internal hunger cues, it can be difficult to differentiate between the finer points of hunger and fullness.
It’s okay and totally normal. It could help to eliminate the increments you’re not at or choose a range of numbers instead of just one number.
Remember, the hunger scale is supposed to be a tool to help, not cause stress. You can choose to use it or not use it whenever you want.
Another way perfectionism could be an issue when using the hunger scale is trying to start and stop eating at certain numbers. Like if you were to say, “I can only eat when I’m at a 3, because I want to use the hunger scale perfectly.”
The intention of using a hunger scale with intuitive eating is to become more aware of patterns, not to turn it into the hunger/fullness diet with rigid rules.
There is no right or wrong, it is just noticing and observing hunger and fullness.
Not feeling hungry often
When focusing on hunger cues, you may find that you don’t feel hungry very often. Usually, our bodies are good at telling us that it needs fuel every 3-6 hours.
Sometimes things like chronic dieting, certain medications, or stress can interfere with our body’s hunger cues. In these circumstances, we may need to eat by the clock until we can consistently rely on hunger cues.
Working with an Intuitive Eating Dietitian
You may want to see a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist when:
- you want support and accountability as you experiment with using the hunger scale
- you have trouble noticing patterns in your hunger/fullness levels
- you feel stressed using the hunger scale
- you find yourself turning it into a rigid diet
- you’re not hungry very often
An Intuitive Eating aligned dietitian is trained to help you in all these scenarios and more. You can work with a dietitian as your partner to help you find what works best for you in your life.
Final Thoughts: Hunger Scale Intuitive Eating
In Intuitive Eating our hunger cues tell us when and how much to eat; and, the hunger scale helps us connect with these cues in a tangible way.
The hunger scale has numbers that correspond to the degree of hunger or fullness.
Using the hunger scale is all about experimenting and reflecting on what was observed to identify patterns in hunger and fullness.
There are potential issues that could come up when using the hunger scale; and, working with an Intuitive Eating Dietitian can be helpful.
Interested in working with an Intuitive Eating aligned Registered Dietitian Nutritionist? Contact me to set up a free 20-minute discovery call to see if we would be a good fit to work together.