Like going to the bathroom, hunger is a normal sensation. But just because something is normal doesn’t mean it comes natural to everyone. Listening to your body and eating until you’re satisfied is much easier said than done.
Many people are not in tune with their body’s need for fuel or what it feels like to be full/satisfied. Unlike a gas tank, we don’t have a visual cue when we’re getting close to empty or when we’re filled up. Because of this, we can over or under eat (both are common!) and both may result in uncomfortable emotions and physical sensations. Let’s break down each end of the scale first.
What is hunger?
Physically speaking, hunger is when our body needs sustenance for energy. We may feel empty or start to hear our stomach growl. In the extremes we may also get headaches, feel nauseous or faint. While these are common sensations at a 1, 2 or 3, someone’s 2 might be another person’s 4. So don’t worry if you’re thinking, “I never know if I’m hungry, my stomach never growls!” This is really common and we can learn to connect with our hunger in other ways.
Emotions and mood can be directly impacted by our stomach. If you’re someone who doesn’t get any physical signs of hunger until you’re at a one and you’re shaking…I suggest checking your mood. Maybe you’ll notice that when you’re heading home from work at a three on the hunger scale you’re irritated when you get home. This irritation creates an urge to eat and eat until you calm down from feeling irritated. In comes the hunger scale, if we can recognize this mood or sensation, we can try to stop and think about having a satisfying snack once we get home (or prior to leaving work). Even though we’re hungry, it’s important to eat slowly and mindfully. Taking some deep breaths and sitting down when you eat the snack can help.
What is fullness/satiation?
This end of the scale might be even tougher to connect with. It’s the neutral zone between a four and a seven on the hunger/fullness scale. At a four you might start feeling hungry. Your stomach might growl but you’re generally not emotionally affected yet. At a seven you are noticeably full and satisfied…or perhaps a little uncomfortable. So what does a five or six feel like? To me, not much! It’s when I’m not thinking about food or it’s the zone I’m in after I’ve had a snack or meal. I notice I’m most productive around this zone.
Mindful eating can help connect you more with this part of the hunger/fullness scale. Take food out of the box, bag, or carton and sit down with your serving. Which, by the way, does not have to be what the nutrition facts tells you is a serving – that’s just a guide and you are the expert of your own body. Not feeling like the expert? Start with the serving that is suggested or half of it and see how it feels. Try to reflect on how it feels to eat that food. What does it taste like? What about the texture? Using your senses can help you slow down and enjoy your food more.
Ever heard of or been in the “clean your plate club?” In my opinion, this is a major contributing factor when it comes to knowing if you’re satisfied or not. Many of the people were raised to finish everything on their plate or no dessert! This can teach us to connect fullness with an external cue; what’s on our plate, instead of listening to our body. Finishing everything we put on our plate then becomes habit and it would likely feel strange to leave something behind.
Now, there’s a lot of other reasons we might eat until we’re at an eight, nine, or ten. Sometimes I intentionally eat to an eight or nine! Hello, Thanksgiving! Or hello any meal that man it’s just so delicious and I might acknowledge that I’m full but I’m totally allowed to finish the plate. It’s all in how you perceive yourself afterwards. If I feel comfortable pushing past fullness and make it a choice, it is much less likely to make me feel guilty later. This of course comes with practice, effort, and often hard work at re-developing your relationship with food.
So what are my recommendations?
Start by acknowledging the hunger scale and getting familiar with what each extreme is like. As you’re reading this right now, where would you rate yourself? If you’re hungry, EAT! If you can acknowledge that you’re at a five but you are wanting to eat try pausing to figure out why. It could be more related to an emotion than physical need.
Here’s where that can feel confusing too…it is OK to eat based on emotion and not physical need. What helps the most is having a general awareness and to work on examining your thoughts, behaviors, and choices around food. The more awareness you have, the more you have ground to grow from.
Lastly, it can be helpful to keep a journal about the hunger scale. I am not saying you need to count your calories or macros, or that you need to journal for the rest of your life. Try just a few days of writing down what you eat but also where you were on the hunger/fullness scale before and after you eat. Maybe you’ll find a pattern leaps out at you like an afternoon snack is leaving you hungry but you’re trying to push through till dinner. Or maybe you’re eating carrots every day because you feel like you “should” but you don’t feel satisfied emotionally. Yes, it’s just as important to feel satisfied emotionally as it is physically.
If you want to track for a few days, try this free Hunger_Fullness Tracker! If you have questions, comment below or send me a message at Brewtition@gmail.com OR come say hi and DM me on Instagram @Holden_Nutrition.