Intuitive Eating Part 2
Hunger-Fullness Discovery Scale
In last month’s article, we discussed the concept of gentle nutrition in regards to intuitive eating. We learned an easy and portable method of loosely measuring our macros in our diets and how accurate and effective that can be. This month, we will explore another breakthrough concept called the Hunger-Fullness Discovery Scale and why it’s so important to be mindful of.
One of the problems some people face is either not eating enough throughout the day, or waiting too long to eat when they are far too hungry, leading to eating past a comfortable point in their meal to where they are uncomfortably full. This can lead to feelings of out of control eating, and not knowing when to start, stop, or how much to eat. The principle of honoring your hunger helps to resolve this.
The second principle of intuitive eating, honoring your hunger, means “keeping your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Otherwise you can trigger a primal drive to overeat. Once you reach the moment of excessive hunger, all intentions of moderate, conscious eating are fleeting and irrelevant. Learning to honor this first biological signal sets the stage for rebuilding trust with yourself and food.” (Intuitive Eating, 4th edition). When you are dieting, your body is technically starving. When you keep yourself chronically underfed, it can lead to eating far too much later on. Perhaps you have experienced this in past diets where you are “trying to eat well” all day, and perhaps are not eating enough food in general- including carbohydrates. By the time dinner comes, you can’t help yourself and devour twice the amount of food you normally would. That scenario is very common and the perfect example as to why this is so important.
Italian researchers found that when we don’t eat enough, our metabolisms lower, our hunger grows more intense, we become more preoccupied with food, and eat more in general. Not a good recipe for long term health and weight management. The key to avoiding this is paying attention to your hunger level throughout the day and eating at initial hunger. First, we have to recognize what this is, as it can look different to person to person.
Signs of Initial Hunger:
- Stomach growling
- Feeling light headed
- Difficulty concentrating
- Stomach pain
- Feeling faint
This will be very individual to you and your body, so recognizing what signals your body gives you for more food is very important.
The Hunger-Fullness Discovery Scale
As you can see from the scale above, let’s start by classifying biological hunger on a scale of 1-10, 1 being completely ravenous and on empty to the point you feel faint, and 10 be so over stuffed full you feel physically sick. The neutral point is 5 where you are neither hungry nor full. At 4 you start to notice hunger pangs, and at 3 your hunger is set and you are ready to eat. It is very important to make the time in your day and be intentional to eat at that point and not letting your hunger go past a 3. When you start eating, eat in a mindful way with no distractions or inhaling your food down so quickly that by the time you start to feel full you have already eaten too much. I recommend removing as many distractions as possible, such as your phone or tv and take note of the tastes, texture, and flavors of your food. Also, not going more than 5 hours max without eating will help you avoid waiting too long in between meals to eat.
- Every time you start to eat, check your hunger level. A good goal is to aim to start eating around 3. If you are at a neutral 5 or higher, you are not biologically hungry and should wait until you are at a comfortable 3 of set hunger to begin eating.
- When you have consumed half of your food, take a brief pause to check in with yourself. Where are you on the scale? This is crucial because it informs how much more, if any, you will eat. It does not mean you have to stop, it just shows you how to move forward from there. When you reach a 7, you are now full and are done with your meal. Studies have shown that eating in response to initial hunger (a 3 on the scale) improves health and weight, so this is a very good lifelong pattern of eating.
- This is definitely an art, not a science, and does not need to be followed with rigidity. Life happens, and we sometimes won’t be able to perfectly follow and stay within a 3-7 of the scale. And that’s okay! Progress is the goal, not perfection. You were born with everything you need to be an intuitive eater. Trust yourself, your body, it’s cues, and the process. For more information and resources check out the book Intuitive Eating (4th edition) by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.