Use Hunger/Fullness Scale To Prevent Overeating

Use Hunger/Fullness Scale To Prevent Overeating

Honoring hunger and fullness is an integral part of maintaining a healthy weight. From a young age, we are taught to “clean our plates!” regardless of how physically full we may have felt. These societal customs have made us tune out our true inner cues, leading to overeating and weight gain.

Being able to determine your level of hunger and fullness can be tricky, especially if you have been ignoring these cues for so long.  But – the good news is, once you are able to discover these hunger and fullness levels again, you will be able to eat the amount of food that your body truly needs – not what you think it needs.

In turn, your caloric intake will naturally decrease and weight loss will be achievable and sustainable.

Young man with his hand on stomach and looking satisfied

The Hunger/Fullness Scale

The hunger/fullness scale is an intuitive Mindful Eating tool that we can use to get in touch with our internal cues. 

Here’s an example of a hunger/fullness scale with numbers ranging from 0-10. Each number on the scale represents a level of hunger or fullness. 

Hunger/Fullness Scale:

0 – Painfully hungry, will eat anything. Very intense and urgent.

1 – Ravenous and irritable. Anxious to eat.

2 – Very hungry. Looking forward to a hearty meal or snack.

3 – Hungry and ready to eat, but there is no urgency, it is a polite hunger.

4 – Subtly hungry, slightly empty.

5 – Neutral. Neither hungry nor full. 

6 – Beginning to feel emerging fullness. 

7 – Comfortable fullness, which feels satisfied and content.

8 – You are being to feel a little too full. It’s not pleasant, but it has not quite emerged into an unpleasant experience. This is overeating.

9 – Very full, too full. You feel uncomfortable as if you need to unbutton your pants or remove your belt.

10 – Painfully full, stuffed. May feel nauseated.

After reading over the scale, you might notice that you often experience some of these sensations.

the hunger scale ranging from starving to nauseous

Tips For Recognizing Hunger and Fullness

  • Begin planning for your next meal when you reach somewhere between a 3-4.
  • Stop eating when you are beginning to approach a 6 or 7.
  • Check in with your fullness level once you are halfway through your meal. 
  • You never want to reach the point of ravenous hunger, as that often leads to mindless overeating and excess calories.

It takes about 20 minutes for the brain to send out signals that you are full. That is why it is recommended to stop eating when approaching a level 6 because, oftentimes, the feelings of fullness enhance after the meal has ended.

Eat 20-Minute Meals to Prevent Overeating

As mentioned before, the importance of proper pacing during meals is so important in the recognition of hunger and fullness. Spending at least 20 minutes during meals is the best way to honor fullness properly. Most of us need to SLOW DOWN our eating!

Hunger/Fullness Activity

Step #1:

  • Check the clock before you start your next meal.
  • Eat your meal at the pace you normally would.
  • Check the clock at the end of your meal.
  • Write down how much time your entire meal took.

Step #2:

  • At your next meal, increase your mealtime by 5-minutes more than your last time. 
  • Document your mealtime, when you started to feel full, and your mood.

Step #3:

  • Keep repeating Step #2 with each meal until meals last at least 20 minutes long.

Step #4: 

  • Note at what time during the 20-minute meal that you feel satisfied and when you tip over to full.

clock with 20 minutes

Tips To Slow Down Your Meals

During Your Meal:

  • Chew your food for about 20-30 chews. Allow yourself to feel the texture and taste of each bite.
  • Put down the utensil.
  • Swallow and take a breath. 
  • Pick up your utensil and take another bite.
  • Put your utensil back down.
  • Chew slowly, engaging your senses in the process.
  • Swallow and breathe.
  • Repeat until your reach around 70% of fullness. 

The key is to eat until energized, not stuffed and overeating. Chewing is such an important part of our digestive process and the ability to honor fullness. 

Young woman chewing food while eating sushi

Chewing your food more thoroughly will allow your body to:

  • Realize how much less you actually need to eat
  • Better absorb vitamins and minerals in food
  • Optimize digestion
  • Feel more energized 

Honor Our Fullness to Avoid Overeating

  • Aim for a 7 on the hunger/fullness scale. This will allow you to eat until you feel satiated and energized, not stuffed.
  • Make a physical gesture that your meal is complete by putting a napkin over it, crossing your silverware, or putting your leftovers in Tupperware.
  • If you are eating with another person, verbally announce that you are full and are done eating.
  • If you are at a restaurant, once you feel full, ask your server for a box or have them wrap up any remaining food. This will help you refrain from continuing “to pick” at the dish.

a meal that is not completely finished with utensils over it

How Does The Hunger/Fullness Scale Help?

You may be wondering how determining these hunger/fullness levels is going to help you on your weight loss and wellness journey. The answer is simple. When eating mindlessly, it becomes extremely easy to overeat. This leads to excess calories, physical discomfort, and then later, restriction (due to guilty feelings). 

This cycle of overeating, guilt, and restriction is what holds back the ability to tune in with inner cues and senses. All satisfaction around eating is lost – and guilt ensues.

Mindful eaters are able to eat what they crave, including sweets and desserts, and not feel guilty about it. This is because they know they will stop eating when they feel satisfied. They also know that they are able to eat this food again in the future if they wish!

Senior couple sharing a donut and looking satisfied

Main Takeaways

Let’s touch upon a few ways we can incorporate the hunger/fullness scale into our daily routine.

  • Begin by checking in with the hunger/fullness scale prior to eating, halfway through the meal, and after the meal is complete. 
  • This is a good way to begin noticing your physical sensations around food. This tracking of hunger/fullness will allow you to discover patterns in your personal eating styles. 
  • It is a great idea to log these numbers in a journal!

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Albers, S. (2020). Mindful eating handouts. Eating Mindfully.

Health Coach Institute. (2018). How-To-Chewing-Guide.

Michaela Bach, V. D. I. (2021, April 7). Mindful eating series: How to use the hunger-fullness scale. RCW.

Tribole, E., & Huber, H. (2021). Intuitive eating: A revolutionary anti-diet approach. Blackstone Publishing.

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