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How to Know if You’re Truly Hungry

Mexican tacos

If you want to feel more in control at mealtime or cut back on unnecessary or mindless eating, a Hunger Scale can be a useful tool to help you assess the physical symptoms of hunger and fullness. It’s based on a scale ranging from 0 to 10, with zero being completely empty, and 10 being overly full.

Of course, we all experience and interpret feelings of hunger and fullness a little bit differently but the key markers are described below. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the varying degrees of hunger and fullness and the symptoms that coincide, we’ll explain how to use it.

What Hunger Scale Scores Mean

0 = Ravenous. I want to eat everything in sight. I probably have low blood sugar because I feel weak, shaky and irritable.

3 = Hungry. My stomach feels empty and is gurgling, rumbling or growling. Food is suddenly on my mind.

5 = Comfortable. I am neither hungry nor full. I could eat but not because I feel physical hunger.

7 = Satisfied. I’m no longer hungry and feel satisfied, physically. I may want to keep eating because it tastes good or is comforting, but I know if I eat more I will begin to feel uncomfortable.

10 = Stuffed. My stomach feels very uncomfortable and overly full. I feel sick from eating so much.

How to Use a Hunger Scale

Now that you’re familiar with the hunger scale, here’s how to put it to use.

1. Rank your hunger level before you begin to eat.

If you fall within the 0-1 range, pay attention to portion size and how fast you eat since you’re more likely to over-serve yourself and eat too quickly.  The first feelings of hunger can usually be felt at 2, and the first feelings of satisfaction at 5. This is the range in which it is a good idea to eat — but keep in mind, the closer you are to 5 the less it will take to feel satisfied. A small snack may be all you need.

2. Measure your hunger again mid-meal.

Rather than going on autopilot and gobbling up everything on your plate, check in with your hunger level midway through your meal. If you’re starting to feel satisfied (somewhere in the 5-7 range, or beyond), put your utensils down and pack up whatever is left for another meal or snack later on.

3. Evaluate your hunger at the end.

If you fall within the 5 to 7 range at the end of your meal, you likely ate just the right amount.

If you rank above that, you probably overdid it a bit. It happens to us all every now and then! Rather than beat yourself up or feel guilty about overeating, try to get to the root of the behavior. Are you overtired or stressed? Were you overly hungry to begin with? Maybe you got wrapped up in conversation, or didn’t want to waste what was left on your plate. There are many reasons we overeat, but understanding when and why it happens is the first step in helping you feel more in control and curbing emotional or mindless eating in the future.

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