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Understanding the Hunger/Satiety Scale: Navigating Hunger and Fullness

Updated: Apr 16




Have you ever been so caught up in work that you completely forgot about lunch, only to realize later that you're absolutely famished and ready to devour everything in sight? Or perhaps you tend to eat quickly and end up uncomfortably full after finishing your plate? Do you struggle with recognizing subtle cues from your body indicating hunger or fullness? If any of this sounds familiar, you're definitely not alone. As babies, we're naturally in tune with our hunger (cue the crying) and fullness (pushing away food), but as we grow older, environmental influences and diet culture can cloud these crucial signals.


When we go too long without eating, we're more likely to choose food impulsively and overeat. Moreover, if we consistently ignore hunger signals, they begin to fade, or are only heard when we're in an extreme hunger state. The same goes for recognizing fullness - if we regularly eat past our fullness cues, it becomes harder to determine comfortable satiety.


Learning to honor our biological hunger and fullness is a vital step in mindful eating and breaking free from diet culture. That's where the Hunger Satiety Scale comes in handy. Regularly using this tool can heighten awareness of eating patterns and help us tune into our body's cues around hunger and satiety, which are essential for creating a healthy relationship with food.



For those new to this tool, breaking it down into sections can be helpful. The goal is to avoid the extremes of the scale (0-2) and (8-10), ideally residing in the 3-7 zone. This ensures experiencing hunger and satisfaction signals without reaching extremes. The first step in honoring our hunger and fullness cues is simply to listen for them. When starting out, it's beneficial to reference the scale throughout the day, checking in with ourselves regarding perceived hunger or fullness levels.


Consider setting reminders throughout the day (apart from meal times) to track shifts in hunger and fullness levels, helping to avoid extreme states. Over time, detecting patterns around hunger cues and duration of fullness becomes more intuitive. The goal is for this self-check-in process to become second nature. It's  also important to remember that hunger and fullness cues are unique to each individual, so it's helpful to think about what these levels have felt like for you in the past.


Here are some helpful ways to think about what hunger and fullness may feel like to you:



Once you feel confident with recognizing hunger and fullness cues, the next step is learning to respond appropriately. For hunger, try catch it early (around level 4) and plan your next meal to prevent extreme hunger. With fullness, pay attention while eating to when you start feeling comfortably full and adjust your eating pace accordingly. The faster you eat, the harder it is for you to recognize that satisfied stopping point.  If you grew up as part of the “clean plate club” it may be necessary to embrace the notion of leaving food on your plate.


Through this journey of recognizing and responding to hunger and fullness cues, you may uncover insights such as certain foods (or food combinations) keep you full for longer or that your cravings decrease when you catch your hunger signals early on.  Other benefits from responding appropriately to your hunger and fullness cues include improved digestion, meal satisfaction, and the ability to make mindful food choices. 


References:

Tribole, Evelyn, and Elyse Resch. Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2012.

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