Intuitive Eating Hunger Fullness Scale: What it Is and How to Use It
The intuitive eating hunger fullness scale is a practical tool that can help you build awareness of your body’s internal hunger and fullness cues. This can ultimately help you ditch the calorie counters and diet rules, and learn to trust your body to tell you when and how much to eat.
Keep reading if you want to explore what the intuitive eating hunger and fullness scale is, what it is not, and how to use it.
What is the hunger fullness scale and what is it not?
The hunger and fullness scale is a tool used in the intuitive eating framework to reconnect us with your body’s internal cues. It is an easy-to-use scale from 0 to 10, where 0 is ravenous and irritable and 10 is painfully full and over stuffed. The scale is used as a tool to identify how hungry or full you are.
The hunger and fullness scale is not a set of rules to dictate when you should or shouldn’t eat. Instead, it’s a tool to help you recognize when it might be time to eat or if you’ve had enough. It can also help you identify your eating patterns and what may be driving you to eat.
There will be times when you get overly hungry because life got in the way and you weren’t prepared. There will also be times when you eat past fullness (it just tasted so good), and that’s OK. It’s part of the learning process.
Why is the hunger and fullness scale an important part of intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating is a ten-step self-care framework developed to help you make peace with food, learn to trust your body, and rediscover the pleasures of eating. If you’ve dieted for years and are used to relying on calorie counters, points, or rules about when it’s ok to eat, trusting your body may feel scary or impossible
A core part of intuitive eating is rejecting the rules and restrictions and abandoning an all-or-nothing way of eating. The hunger fullness scale is a good bridge between diet rules and completely trusting your body.
It asks you to be curious about what your body is telling you and to respond accordingly without judgment. This can be a helpful way to lean into a less rigid way of thinking about food.
Why is the hunger and fullness scale useful?
The hunger and fullness scale is a helpful tool to bridge dieting and feeling like an intuitive eater. You won’t have to check in with yourself forever and compare your hunger levels to a chart. Once you learn to trust your body, you’ll know when it’s time to eat.
You don’t need to eat the same amount every day
Did you know that your body doesn’t actually need the same number of calories every day? Despite what diets (especially those that have you count points or calories) lead you to believe, your body is dynamic.
How much you need to eat from day to day can depend on how much you exercised, your stress levels, how much you slept last night, what you ate the day before, hormones (and where you are in your cycle, ladies), and more. Learning your hunger and fullness cues with the scale can help you respond to your ever-changing needs.
Dieting can disrupt your hunger and fullness cues
If you’ve dieted for a long time, you may not know what hunger and fullness actually feel like. You may be used to feeling hungry all the time or never truly feeling full. Or, you may be in a bit of a binge-restrict cycle where you are regularly eating until you’re stuffed.
Many diets teach you to ignore hunger and wait until it’s “time” to eat. Maybe you’re still holding onto some tips like drinking water or diet drinks, chewing gum, eating rice cakes, or going for a walk when you feel hungry.
These, unsurprisingly, can confuse our bodies and make identifying true hunger and fullness challenging.
Dieting also often keeps you in the “neutral” zone of the hunger fullness scale. This means that you never actively eat enough to feel truly full because dieting is all about restricting the amount of food you eat. This is just one of the many harmful effects of dieting.
The hunger and fullness scale can be a comforting way to let go of dieting
If you find comfort in having boundaries and rules, intuitive eating probably feels really scary. The hunger and fullness scale can be a helpful tool to move you towards intuitive eating.
The women I work with often find the guidelines useful when working to let go of rules that dictate when it’s OK to eat because they act as reminder of when to eat.
But be careful not to make it into another set of rules, because it’s not! You won’t get it “right” every time. But having some guide rails to help you figure out your own body again is useful.
How to start using the hunger fullness scale
Using the hunger fullness scale can be a really helpful tool in your intuitive eating journey. Here are some top tips to get you started.
Get to know your hunger
Everyone experiences hunger differently and, despite popular belief, hunger isn’t just a rumbling stomach. You may experience hunger in different parts of your body. The following graphic outlines different places hunger may show up.
Once you have recognized what hunger looks like to you, you can check in with yourself and compare it to the actual scale. A four is a sign that you might need to eat soon. Once you have dipped to a three, it really is time to eat. Ideally, you want to avoid getting to a two or below.
That’s because it’s not only an uncomfortable place to be as blood sugar levels drop, but getting overly hungry can also lead you to a point of feeling stuffed.
But remember — it’s not about being perfect! There will be times when you aren’t able to always eat when you get to 3. And this takes practice, so be patient with yourself.
Learn to recognize fullness
Your brain and body are pretty smart, friends. Your fullness cues are the messages your body is telling your brain that it is full and you can stop eating now or pretty soon.
Feelings of fullness mostly show up as a physical feeling in the stomach. However, another sign that you may have had enough to eat is that the food doesn’t taste as good as it initially did when you were truly hungry.
If you’ve been dieting for a long time, eating until you’re truly full may actually feel even a little uncomfortable (because you’re used to living in that neutral zone). Start to notice how long a meal keeps you full.
If a meal is not keeping you full for at least 3 hours, you probably didn’t eat enough. Everyone is different though, so get to know your own body’s feelings of fullness.
On the flip side, you may recognize fullness as only feeling overstuffed, so start to practice checking in with your body throughout the meal. Learning fullness takes practice so be gentle with yourself. You’re probably going to over eat sometimes. That’s part of the process.
What to do if you’re struggling to use the hunger fullness scale
If you are a chronic dieter and have been restricting for a long time, rediscovering your hunger and fullness cues and being able to quantify them using this tool may be challenging. But there are ways you can reconnect with your body and your hunger and fullness cues.
Try regular body scans
Starting from the top of your head and moving down to the very bottom of your feet, try slowly scanning your whole body to see if you feel any signs of hunger. Try this every two to three hours (or even more often at first) throughout the day. Setting a timer can be a helpful reminder to do this.
Remove distractions while eating
Life is busy and most people multitask while eating. But did you know that watching TV, scrolling on your phone or working while eating can actually keep you from recognizing fullness?
Try eating your meals or snacks in a quiet place free of distractions and see if your hunger and fullness cues are easier to decipher. If this feels really uncomfortable (it probably will!), start with just two to three minutes of undistracted eating.
This isn’t to say you can’t ever eat in front of the TV again, but while you’re reconnecting with your body, these mindful practices can be helpful.
If you’ve been dieting for a long time and squashing your hunger and fullness cues, it may take some time to rediscover them. Intuitive eating is not a quick fix and the hunger and fullness scale is no different.
Work with a non-diet professional
Dietitians who specialized in intuitive eating can help ground you through the process of learning to trust your body again. If you are looking for support, we offer nutrition coaching without the diets to help you ditch diet rules for good and learn to work with your body instead of against it.
When is the hunger and fullness scale not appropriate to use?
When you are anxious, stressed, depressed, distracted, or extra busy, you may be less able to recognize hunger and fullness. These are known as attunement disruptors as they are obstacles that interfere with your ability to recognize and respond to the messages your body is sending you.
Eating intuitively means listening to your body while also knowing that your body needs regular nourishment. Sometimes that means eating because you know you need to eat, not because you’re noticing hunger cues.
Key takeaway on the intuitive eating hunger and fullness scale
If you have been a chronic dieter, it can be challenging to tune into your body’s cues. The intuitive eating hunger and fullness scale can be a helpful tool when working on eating more intuitively.
You don’t have to do this on your own. If this feels overwhelming, foreign, or you’ve tried to use the hunger and fullness scale and feel stuck, schedule a free discovery call to see if non-diet nutrition coaching is a fit for you.