Listening to Your Body: Hunger & Satiety

When we were born, we had the skills to eat what our bodies needed and recognize easily when we were hungry and full. Think of the signals an infant gives when she/he is hungry (crying, sticking out tongue, showing interest in food she/he sees). Then think of the signals the same infant gives when she/he is full (turning head away from breast/bottle/food, closing eyes, falling asleep).

The ability to sense hunger and fullness helps us to regulate the amount of food our individual bodies need. Unfortunately, as we get older, we lose the skills to sense these feelings as we once did when we were first learning to eat. We may also be distracted while we eat (by devices, TV, etc.), have various emotions connected to eating (like eating when we are sad, happy, stressed, etc.), and/or have beliefs about the types of foods to eat or avoid and how much and how often we should be eating. All of these things take us away from recognizing how we feel physically, meaning we may under-eat or over-eat and possibly miss out on important nutrients because we are no longer in touch with our bodies.

By using mindfulness, or being aware of your feelings and emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations as often as possible throughout the day, you can learn to recognize how you feel when you are hungry and full. A hunger scale can be used to learn how you may feel before and after eating. If you feel like you have a hard time noticing when you become hungry or full and end up either feeling lightheaded before you eat or in physical pain after you eat, a hunger scale may be useful to help you identify various signs before the extremes occur. Taking more time to eat and removing distractions, like phones and TVs, can also increase your awareness of these feelings. Below is a hunger scale and a description of how best to utilize this tool.

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To use the hunger scale, start by simply taking 30 seconds every 30-60 minutes throughout the day to sense any physical signs that may indicate it's time to eat; use the scale as needed until you learn what your signs of hunger feel like. When your stomach begins to feel empty or if you notice slight hunger pangs, it's time to eat. Throughout your meal, do your best to recognize the textures, aromas, and, of course, the way the food tastes. By paying attention to these attributes, you can start to slow down as you eat, allowing you to sense satiety and fullness. Once the signs of hunger have left and before you begin to feel stuffed, you have reached a level of satiety that is appropriate for you. Generally, staying between a 4 to 6 or 3 to 7 on the hunger scale is ideal to help prevent overeating due to a sense of restriction. This means you may need to plan your meals and snacks in a way that allows you to eat according to your body. Carrying snacks with you to work or while running errands can ensure that you always have something to eat once you notice your hunger level is at a 3 or 4. Check out Snacks to Keep You Satisfied for ideas that work with your situation.

Note that the foods and amount you eat should never make you feel ashamed or negative toward yourself. If you do your best to fuel your body with nourishing and sometimes foods without restriction, your body and mind will feel their best. It may take some time to find an appropriate balance between nourishing and sometimes foods and absolutely with the amount of food that you feel best with. If you realize you are under-eating and experiencing hunger pangs frequently or overeating and feeling bloated frequently, simply take note of these feelings and keep working toward a place of satisfaction. It is okay to have days where you don't feel like you reached a place of satiety with food, and it's major progress just to recognize this - so remember to celebrate the positive!