If you’re like most people, you’ve tried at least 1 diet and maybe it feels like hundreds at this point.
I remember first hearing about intuitive eating assuming it’d be like everything else. Another diet and “sustainable change” I’d fail to make sustainable (even as a registered dietitian).
Here’s the thing, intuitive eating is eating without rules. So, there’s actually no way to do it wrong.
Intuitive eating provides a self-care framework that’s about creating a relationship with food that works for you.
This no-food rules approach can feel overwhelming in the beginning, but some tools can help you figure out how to make intuitive eating work for you.
The hunger fullness scale provides an easy-to-use tool for relearning your body’s hunger cues. Keep reading to learn more about the intuitive eating hunger scale, how to use it, and don’t forget to get a copy of our free Hunger Fullness Scale handout.
What is intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating is a self-care way of eating. It’s based on the idea that you know what’s best for you and your body. Intuitive eating teaches you to honor your hunger and fullness while creating a healthy relationship with food.
Your body has a natural system that regulates your hunger and fullness cues so that you eat just what your body needs. There are multiple hormones produced to regulate hunger.
The problem for many people is that they were taught not to trust their bodies and the hunger cues produced by these hormones.
They were taught if they allow themselves to eat whatever they want, then they’ll simply eat “bad” foods and stop taking care of themselves.
But that isn’t what happens with intuitive eating.
Instead, when you learn to listen to your body and honor your needs. You take better care of yourself because you listen to what your body truly needs. Instead of what someone else thinks you should need.
Intuitively you know what works best for you. You just may need help relearning how to understand your body’s cues after years of dieting rules.
What are hunger cues?
Hunger cues are the signs you need to eat food. Your body gives you signals for everything you need. You feel tired when it’s time to sleep and thirsty when you need to drink water.
These things are so basic, it’s easy to just assume you know what they feel like. The problem is we can be taught to ignore these cues and our ability to interpret these nuanced cues can weaken.
We drink caffeine to avoid feeling tired. And drink water or chew gum to delay eating until the scheduled meal time. Dieting culture actively gives tips to avoid hunger and feeling hungry.
All the dieting and health tips people try to not feel hungry disconnect you from understanding your hunger cues.
Many people I talk to think they are hungry once their stomach starts to growl. But in my experience and from what my clients share, that physical symptom of hunger usually indicates extreme hunger.
When you wait to eat until you’re overly hungry, you’re more likely to overeat until you feel uncomfortably full.
The point of relearning your hunger cues is to start to recognize the earlier signs of hunger to create a more balanced approach to eating.
Here are some of the subtle signs of hunger you could experience:
- Trouble focusing
- Starting to think about food more
- Dips in energy levels or low energy
- Heartburn or stomach feeling “empty”
- Difficulty concentrating
Signs of early hunger vary person to person, so you may experience hunger cues not included in this list.
What is the intuitive eating hunger scale?
The intuitive eating hunger scale is a system for ranking hunger on a scale from 1-10. This hunger fullness scale helps you assess your body and learn your signs of hunger.
Here’s what each number on the hunger fullness scale means:
1 – Famished
This extreme level of hunger usually leaves people feeling nauseous and very uncomfortable.
Both ends of the hunger fullness scale are when people feel physically ill because of the extreme levels of hunger or fullness.
You’ll likely be extremely focused on food, feel like you’re starving, and may feel like you could pass out from not eating.
2 – Extremely hungry
At the extremely hungry levels of the hunger fullness scale, you’ll feel like you need to eat now, may feel a little hangry, and likely feel uncomfortable.
Often, when people first start to relearn their hunger fullness cues, they don’t recognize they’re hungry until this stage.
Or they simply don’t let themselves eat until they feel extremely hungry because it’s learning how to approach eating after years of dieting and delaying eating.
3 – Hungry
Hunger is when you feel like it’s not to eat now and are feeling the physical signs of hunger. You may notice your stomach growling and feeling very distracted by thoughts of food.
4 – Early Hunger
Early hunger occurs when you first start to feel hungry. It’s that stage where you feel, “I could eat, but could also wait a bit for when I’m more hungry.”
Depending on your signs of hunger, you may notice some food thoughts creeping in, feeling a little distracted, or emptiness in your stomach.
5 – Neutral
Neutral hunger is the stage where you don’t feel particularly hungry or full. Once your relationship with food heals and you understand your body’s needs, you won’t experience thoughts about food or eating during this stage.
6 – Mild fullness
Mild fullness is the stage where you begin to feel full but aren’t quite mentally satisfied with your meal yet. You could stop eating and wouldn’t feel hungry again for a while, but may still want a little more food.
7 – Satisfied
Satisfied is the stage where you feel completely comfortable with your level of fullness and feel mentally satisfied with your meal.
8 – Uncomfortably full
At this stage, you feel a little uncomfortable with how much food you ate. Clients often tell me this stage feels like “that was a couple bites too many.”
Often after 20-30 minutes, the discomfort goes away.
9 – Stuffed
Stuffed is that feeling many people experience after Thanksgiving meal where they have the urge to unbutton their pants because it’s so uncomfortable.
You’ll likely feel very bloated when stuffed and extremely uncomfortable.
10 – Overstuffed
Overstuffed is the stage that some people describe as a food coma. Where you feel like you need to lie down or could throw up because you’re too full.
Why use it?
Intuitive eating is a rule free way of eating. While that can be freeing, many people find intuitive eating overwhelming after following stricter dieting and healthy living rules for years.
The hunger fullness scale helps provide structure and guidance for relearning the skill of intuitive eating. You can easily use the hunger fullness scale to start distinguishing between the types of hunger to help with food decisions.
The hunger scale can be an excellent intuitive eating tool to start incorporating gentle nutrition into your eating routine.
How to use the intuitive eating hunger fullness scale
After using this tool myself and with my clients, I’ve found the best way to use this tool is to work into a practice meal. It can feel overwhelming to try to figure the hunger fullness scale out when rushing through a busy schedule.
So start small and try it with a meal where you can focus on your meal or snack. You can do the exercise in as little as 2-3 minutes or take longer if you have more time to write.
All you need to do is write down how you’re feeling physically and mentally before and after you eat. Then take a guess at which number on the hunger scale you think you’re at.
The more you practice this the more insight you’ll gain into how food affects you at different times. Awareness is built slowly over time, so finding a few minutes a day or a few times a week will go a long way toward becoming the expert on how hunger and fullness feels for you.
I created a free hunger fullness scale handout you can use to go through this exercise. Get your copy of the PDF here.
Identifying your hunger and fullness cues
Usually, when people start learning intuitive eating, they have no idea what any of their signs of hunger and fullness are. They’ve learned to base eating off the foods allowed on their meal plan and stages of rebelliously eating the foods not allowed on their plan.
But don’t worry, you can learn to understand your body’s cues again to satisfy your needs and feel better.
The intuitive eating hunger fullness scale is a useful tool to help you relearn your specific signs of hunger and fullness.
Note that your specific hunger and fullness cues may be different from those I listed above. So, stay curious and take some time to learn what yours are.
Be willing to give yourself grace as you learn.
Everyone gets it wrong sometimes, and that’s ok. Don’t beat yourself up over it. It just means you’re learning and using that information to help you understand your body better.
Relearning hunger fullness cues
When relearning your hunger and fullness cues, it can be helpful to take notes throughout the day of how you’re feeling.
Before and after meals, take notes of changes to how you feel physically and mentally. Over time, you’ll start to figure out how food affects you and your signs of hunger and fullness.
Most people (my clients and myself included) get so used to ignoring our hunger cues—by drinking water, chewing gum, going for walks, and just pretending it isn’t there—that we end up ping-ponging back and forth from extreme hunger to stuffed.
When you wait until you’re uncomfortably hungry to eat, you tend to eat quickly. Your body tells you, “I need food now,” and you easily end up eating until you’re uncomfortably full.
If this sounds familiar, try eating at an earlier stage of hunger to see if it changes how you feel during and after meals.
Remember it’s ok to just guess in the beginning. The point of the hunger fullness scale is to build awareness. It’s a practice and doing it imperfectly is the perfect way to do it.
p.s. If you’re ready for simple and easy health without food rules, sign up for the waitlist for the Simple Health membership. In the membership, we cover everything you need to create a stress-free relationship with food, exercise, and body image.