Create A Hunger Scale
TODAY YOU WILL, create your very own hunger scale. The scale below gives you an idea of what you’re going for, but your assignment is to personalize this scale, including your own hunger and fullness cues.
Let’s start with a 5. The number 5 on this scale is neutral. This means you are not hungry – but you are not full. You could eat. But you could also abstain for a while. This is the starting point for everyone.
Next, think about your very first sign of hunger. Is it a stomach growl? A headache? Maybe your stomach feels empty? Put your first physical symptom of hunger beneath the number 4. What happens if you are at a 4 and you don’t eat? Put those symptoms above the number 3. What happens if you still don’t eat? Put those symptoms beneath the number 2. Then think about the hungriest you have ever been. What does that feel like? Put those symptoms beside the number 1.
Now let’s complete the other side of the scale. You start to eat and hunger pains disappear. You aren’t satisfied, however. That is a 6. On the scale, a 7 would correlate to when you are satisfied. You have not overeaten but you are no longer hungry. An 8 would signify the first sign of overeating. Is it a bloating or fullness in the stomach? If you continue eating, how do you feel? Are you sleepy? Are you beginning to feel heartburn? These symptoms correlate with a 9 on the scale. Beneath the number 10, jot down how it feels to be the fullest you can remember. This is “Thanksgiving Day–stuffed.”
Completing a hunger scale sounds pretty simple, but many find they don’t know the answers to the above questions. Recently, my niece said irritability was her first sign of hunger. I said, “Well, that’s bad, because you should feel hunger three to five times a day!” As she thought about it more and paid attention to her body in the days that followed, she decided an empty stomach was her first sign and irritability was actually at a 2.
My guess is that you will need some time to complete this scale. In the next few days, really pay attention to the physical symptoms of hunger and fullness. If you aren’t sure if you are hungry, wait 20 minutes and check back in with your body. Chances are if you are not sure you are hungry, you aren’t!
Your goal now is to eat when hungry (3 or 4) and stop when satisfied (7). If you are able to complete this scale today, tomorrow’s homework is to eat at 3 and 4 and stop at 7.
Take note of how many times you are tempted to eat and you are not even hungry. Tell yourself that you don’t need the food because your body is not asking for it. If you give it calories it does not need and has not asked for, it has no choice but to store those calories and this results in weight gain.
One note: If you are used to eating more calories than your body needs it is likely that once you start paying attention to your physical hunger you will feel hungry often. In these cases, you can practice some hunger tolerance and eat according to a schedule (3 meals, 1-2 snacks). You need to see that you CAN tolerate a certain amount of hunger. We’ve all done it. Have you had to fast for a medical or dental procedure? Have you been stuck in a lecture or meeting and been hungry? You were able to wait to eat, weren’t you? You didn’t pass out did you? Sometimes we rationalize eating because we tell ourselves we were hungry and therefore had no choice. You always have a choice.
BEING HUNGRY IS LIKE BEING IN LOVE: IF YOU HAVE TO WONDER YOU PROBABLY AREN’T.
In a perfect world everyone would eat when hungry and stop when full and be at their ideal body weight. That is our goal for you. As simple as it sounds it is not easy for everyone to follow this guideline. Now let’s look at why.
I feel hungry all the time.
I never feel hungry.
I never feel full.
To understand hunger and fullness you have to understand two hormones, leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is also called the satiety hormone. It’s primary role is to regulate appetite. It does so by making us feel full when we have eaten sufficiently. If you are in a pattern of weight gain, leptin levels should be elevated in an attempt to make you eat less.
Ghrelin is known as the hunger hormone. It regulates appetite by having the opposite effect as leptin. It makes us feel hungry and that drives us to eat. After a meal, ghrelin levels typically go down for about three hours.
Leptin and ghrelin were only discovered in 1994 and 1996 respectively so we are still learning about their importance in weight regulation.
Chances are if you have problems identifying your hunger and fullness cues your levels of leptin and ghrelin are impaired. As of now, it is difficult to find a doctor that will test your leptin or ghrelin levels. This may be because if you are found to be deficient doctors don’t really know how to treat these deficiencies. It is not as simple as prescribing a supplement. So here is what we recommend:
If you are having problems identifying hunger and fullness cues, scrap the hunger scale for now. Eat according to your meal plan. Eat 3 meals and 1-2 snacks per day. After a month of eating this way check back in with your body. Has anything changed? Are you now able to feel hungry? If so, complete your hunger scale and start eating this way. If not, continue to eat per your meal plan.
If you need help developing a meal plan, check out our course that will help you customize one for yourself.