The hunger fullness scale is a tool developed alongside Intuitive Eating that can be used to help people listen and respond to their hunger cues. And it's pretty handy.
Check it: When we develop a pattern of yo-yo dieting, our hunger cues lose touch with our consciousness along the way. What we begin to interpret as emotional hunger, anxiety, or never-ending doom may just be hunger pangs we've so-long ignored that we've forgotten they can be cured with food until we're sitting in the pantry with a package of decimated Oreos promising ourselves we're never going to binge again.
But those Oreos? They're the result of a hunger signal that was ignored and ignored again. They are not a sign that we are weak or undisciplined. Our brain is just trying to keep us literally from starving to death, and that means it told us to reach for the highest-value food: quick sugar, high calories, big dopamine hit. Don't blame the brain! The poor thing is just trying to keep us alive. Nice brain. Good brain.
We just haven't been great at building a secure relationship with our bodies (brain included) because we were too busy demanding it to be different. But as Will Smith in Hitch would remind us, our job in building this relationship is to listen and respond. Which brings us to the body's communication device to chronic dieters: the hunger fullness scale.
What is the hunger fullness scale?
The hunger fullness scale is a way of constantly checking in with your hunger, rather than letting it be a surprise visitor who shows up unannounced and causes havoc. It's a sort-of hunger scale interview you use to check in on yourself throughout the day to get in touch with how hungry you are.
The intuitive eating hunger fullness scale is built of two main sections: the hunger cues (1-4) and the fullness cues (6-9) with neutrality joining them in the middle (5).
The Intuitive Eating hunger scale goes like this:
I am so hungry I feel dizzy, shaky, or lightheaded.
I am so hungry I feel irritable, my head aches, my stomach pangs.
I am starting to feel uncomfortably hungry. Maybe I have a growling stomach and my energy is low.
I could eat but could easily go another hour without food if necessary.
I don't feel especially hungry or full.
I am no longer hungry but could eat more if it were available and appealing.
I feel satisfied and comfortably full.
I feel uncomfortably full, might need to loosen my pants.
My stomach feels so full that I feel nauseous and don't want to move.
How does the hunger fullness scale work?
Most people find satisfaction eating when their hunger fullness scale reading falls between 3 and 4 on the hunger scale and stopping when their fullness cues reach between a 6 or 7. By checking in on your hunger scale every 1-2 hours throughout the day, you'll start to show up for your body in a healthy way, teaching your body that you once again know how to listen and respond to your hunger cues and fullness cues.
This positive communication teaches your brain over time to turn down the emergency dial on your hunger, no longer requiring the high-value Oreos to instigate fullness cues and instead asking for foods that give you more sustainable energy and make your digestive tract happy. That's the intuitive eating hunger scale working for you to aid communication between your brain and your expectations.
And that's when the magic happens because as you listen using the intuitive eating hunger scale as a guide, your brain starts asking you for the foods that support your healthy body you always wanted: vegetables, fruits, whole grains. The foods you once told yourself were too hard to eat or, maybe, would make you fat (I'm lookin' at you, bananas). #eatyourbananas
How can responding to hunger cues using the hunger fullness scale help people lose weight in a healthy way?
Hopefully you can see how this intuitive eating hunger scale pattern over time develops a healthier relationship with food and your body. If you've been dieting for a while, chances are your hunger cues and fullness cues have become screwy, and this is a way to trust them again, paying attention to your hunger scale.
But more than that, it's a way of losing weight in a sustainable way because you're probably not depriving yourself of the foods you love or counting calories or macros. You're simply learning to become more attuned with your body's hunger signals through the intuitive eating hunger scale and respond in a way that is healthy for both your mind and body.
But, as always, I want to give you an option to make this a little more nuanced and a little more customizable.
Using the Hunger Fullness Scale, Intuitive Eating, and Dieting
I'm certain an Intuitive Eating dietician somewhere is going to come take my blog away, but hear me out: the hunger fullness scale can support any diet. I say this because you don't necessarily need to do Intuitive Eating to get the benefits of good mind and body communication and healing that comes from the hunger fullness scale.
I want this tool to give you the words and grace you need when you find yourself binging on those Oreos. I want you to consider if, in that moment, maybe your Intermittent Fasting window was too long? The knowledge of the huger scale really is power.
Or maybe your Keto Diet on Week 3 is still giving you weight loss results but you're not feeling "Content" (Hunger Scale 7) anymore. You can get to a 6 but not a 7 on the hunger scale. Is there something missing? Listen and respond! Figure out what food your body is needing and feed it.
Or maybe, as you probably know is my preference, you use the hunger fullness scale to support Intuitive Eating with your weight loss journey by prioritizing eating lower-calorie, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, chicken, fish, and healthy fats. You prep lots of easy-to-reach cucumbers and broccoli with a favorite dressing so when you begin dipping into that 4 zone, you have a prioritized choice at your finger-tips.
Remember, ease of access is still a very important factor to our brains, especially if we've dropped too far into the hunger scale. That means it's helpful to make healthy choices with intuitive eating the no-brainer option when you're body cues are dipping to a 3 or 2.
To Sum Up: Why Use the Hunger Fullness Scale?
It can help you become more attuned with your body's hunger signals.
Whether or not you're embarking on an Intuitive Eating journey, learning how to identify hunger cues and stop eating when you're full will strengthen the relationship you have with your body as well as support any weight loss journey on which you choose to embark.
It can help you lose weight in a sustainable way.
If you're dieting, the hunger fullness scale can help you become more attuned with your body's hunger signals, which will help you make better choices about what to eat and when to stop eating.
It can help you figure out your body's cues.
If you find yourself binging on certain foods, your body signals can help you figure out if there's something missing from your diet by tuning you into hunger versus cravings and learning to decipher the information.
And bonus, it allows you to eliminate food rules and restrictions (i.e. diet mentality) by honoring hunger, giving you an option to make your weight loss journey more nuanced and customizable.
It can give you the words and grace you need when you find yourself binging on unhealthy foods.
If you find yourself binging on high-value foods, hopefully now you can see how your body is just trying to take care of itself and responding normally to physical hunger. Eliminate the shaming thoughts surrounding that pattern and recognize that you're just waiting too long to eat. Uncomfortable hunger usually yields an uncomfortable response. And if you feel so inclined, shed the diet culture and give Intuitive Eating a try!
The Intuitive Eating hunger fullness scale bids adieu!
The hunger fullness scale is a powerful tool that can support any health positive journey. Whether you're embarking on an Intuitive Eating journey or not, learning to identify hunger cues and stop eating when you're full will help you lose weight in a sustainable way.
All in all, the hunger fullness scale is a great tool to have in your intuitive eating tool-belt. It's helped me on my intuitive eating journey, and I hope it does the same for you! So start eating when you feel hungry!