Listening to and understanding your hunger and fullness cues
Have you ever stopped to listen to what your hunger and fullness feel like?
Do you even know what hunger feels like to you or have you spent most of your life suppressing feelings of hunger because either you were on a diet and not allowed to mess up or you were too busy to worry about food?
Do you know that hunger feels different to each person? Have you ever paid attention to the cues your body gives you?
Today, we are going to talk all about how to start recognizing your hunger and fullness cues and what to do about them so you feel like you’re more in control of your eating habits.
WHAT IS HUNGER TO YOU?
What cues does your body give you when you’re hungry? Do you get headaches, does your stomach growl, do you get nauseous?
Everyone experiences hunger a little differently and it’s important to know how YOU experience it so you can respond in the right way. Grab your hunger scale along with the rest of my resource library so you can start to understand and pay attention to your hunger and fullness cues.
There are varying degrees of hunger. Think of it like a scale of 0-10, 0 being literally starving, and 10 being Thanksgiving stuffed. At what point on the scale should you start eating, how much should you eat, and when should you stop? These are all questions we will explore today.
Your first task is pay a little closer attention to your body today. What is it telling you? In your handout, fill in what each stage of hunger feels like to you.
Scale 0-3: What do you feel like when you’re starving? Write down both physical AND mental feelings. Do you get grouchy (or hangry), is your temper shorter? Do you feel sick or get headaches?
Scale 4-6: What do you feel like when you’re in the middle ranges? Do you feel satisfied? Energized? Happy? Content? Does your stomach feel a certain way? What number would be your ideal number of fullness throughout the day?
Scale 7-10: What do you feel when you’re starting to get full? Do you experience any emotions? Do you know when that last bite is the last one or do you usually end up feeling too full afterwards?
It’s ok if you don’t know all of these answers right now. You may have suppressed hunger for so long, you don’t really know what it feels like. If you find yourself in that situation, then take a week and try to really pay attention. Really listen to your body. Listen to your extremes. Listen to your balance. I promise it will come with a little bit of consistent monitoring.
HOW TO EAT WHEN YOU’RE HUNGRY
Now that you have your hunger and fullness cues outlined a little better, how do you know when it’s time to eat, how much to eat, what to eat, etc?
Let me first ask you, when was the last time you let yourself get really hungry? Like ravenous? Did you crave health foods or were you looking for the first thing you could throw in your mouth - preferably salty or sweet or extremely satisfying?
The #1 goal of hunger is to not let yourself get too low. If you end up on the extreme level of hunger, it’s very unlikely you’ll make a healthy choice at that point.
When you allow your hunger levels to get too low, you’re also at risk for overeating and going from a level of starving to a level of stuffed.
So, here are your guidelines for knowing what and how to eat when you’re hungry.
If you’re at a level 2-3, eat a well-balanced meal. This is a typical hunger level to eat a meal. Eat it mindfully and carefully. Start to listen to your body as you inch up that fullness scale.
If you’re at a level 4-5, eat a snack. You’re not quite hungry enough for a full meal as you’ll be more at risk for overeating, but your brain and body might need a little pick me up.
The general guideline is to check in with your hunger every few hours to see where you’re at. Ask yourself if you need a snack or a meal, then eat accordingly.
WHAT IS FULLNESS TO YOU?
Let’s head to the other end, shall we? What do you experience when you start to feel full? Do you have a number that is your ideal fullness number? Do you have a sensation in your body that tells you you’ve gone too far?
Take a specific look at the scale 7-10. Write down what feelings you experience physically and emotionally. If you start to listen, you might start to hear that gut-brain connection, where your gut tells your brain it’s time to call it quits.
The key to this step is just to notice. Pay attention. Spend a day or preferably a week paying attention to your fullness levels and then start practicing it.
HOW TO KNOW WHEN TO STOP
Ah, the million dollar question, “how do I avoid overeating?”
The simple answer is to PAY ATTENTION. But, as you know, there’s more that goes into it. It’s about knowing your cues and then listening to them.
Most people feel pretty content anywhere from 6-8 ish on the scale. Try to notice when you get to that point. Write down everything about it. Then, practice it. Next time you’re out or you’re eating at home, stop when you get to that satisfaction level and see how you feel. If in 10 minutes you feel hungry again, then maybe you need to go a little higher next time. If you feel a little over-full, then stop a few bits sooner.
To do this, every time you sit down at a meal just ask the simple question, “where am I at with my hunger levels?” It’s as easy as that. It doesn’t require extra time, it doesn’t require you to do anything different, just ask yourself that simple question each time.
Then, have in your mind that number of fullness you want to get to. Think 2-3 feelings you experience when you get to that number. Then pay attention to it during the meal.
You can do this whether you’re sitting down and eating a meal by yourself and focused, or if you’re surrounded by people or other distractions. It doesn’t require anything more than just checking in every few minutes.
Many people struggle with overeating at restaurants. The key to avoiding this is to have a plan before you go. Tell yourself that when you start to experience certain feelings, you’ll stop there and get your to-go box. If you’ve practiced the scenario in your mind, it won’t be a big deal when you get there, and will practice, will become an automatic response.
Do you feel a little more confident with knowing how to eat and when to stop? It’s all about paying attention, setting some guidelines, and practicing. Over time, you will start to get more and more in tune with your body and what it’s telling you. If you listen, you’ll find yourself in a much better nutritional balance, less guilty for overeating, and more in control over your eating habits.
Stay tuned for our next post in the mindful eating series, the big hairy beast of a topic, “Emotional eating 101 - the good, the bad, the ugly.”