Our needs change everyday.
Some days are busy days and we need a bit extra food to give us the energy to power through it, other days are not so busy and not so much energy (food) is required.
Some days we are busy or worked out and for whatever reason didn’t eat more than normal and that can mean that the next day we are a bit hungrier than normal. Sometimes the opposite is true, and we ate more than we needed and so our bodies adjusted accordingly and the next day we are not quite as hungry as usual.
Being hungry isn’t something we should be afraid of. You don’t need to ‘drink more water’ or try a different random technique to try and suppress that hunger.
If it is genuine hunger, the only thing that will help is eating food.
That being said, there are some other things that can make you think you are hungry when you are not – such as emotional eating, being extra tired etc.
How do I know if I am hungry?
When we follow diets and plans we tend to lose our ability to assess our hunger levels.
We get told to ignore our hunger, to drink some water instead and to stay under a certain amount of points or calories and what happens is that we lose the connection with our body that tells us we are hungry.
We are born with that connection. When you are a baby, you cry to notify everyone that you need some milk and when you are full you stop. The same goes for a young child – they eat until they are full and that is that. Anyone who has ever tried to get a toddler to eat a bit more when they are no longer hungry can tell you that that is true.
So how do we lose it?
We lose the ability through trying to follow restrictive diet plans or trying to lose weight through restriction.
We can also lose it by being told to clear our plates as children, or that you couldn’t leave the table or have dessert or something else if you did not clear your plate – which means eating past our fullness level and losing that hunger signal with your body.
Can I get it back?
If you can learn something. You can unlearn something and replace it with different information.
The best way to do this is to start tuning in and listening to your body.
When you start doing this, you will be able to judge your hunger by using a hunger and fullness scale.
What is a hunger and fullness scale?
A hunger scale is a ten-point scale, which allows you to recognise how hungry or full you are from the cue’s that your body gives – so you can work out if you are really hungry and stop eating when you are full.
Learning how to do this again is a skill that means you are no longer going to need to try and track your food intake, your body is doing it for you.
How does it work?
The goal is that you are hungry and ready to eat when your hunger level is around a 4/3 – so you are definitely hungry but not at the point of ‘hanger’ or being uncomfortably hungry (around a 2), or feeling ill/hunger pains (a 1).
The next step is when you are eating that you eat until you feel that your hunger level is around a 6/7. You are full, but not stuffed (an 8), Christmas full (a 9) or feeling ill or being sick because you are so full (10).
Ideally, you want to be around a neutral 5 for the most part of your day, not hungry but not full either. Just neutral. 5 on the scale is your starting point.
Why does this work?
When we tune into our hunger and fullness level it allows us to customise our eating to what works for us.
No app is able to tell us exactly what works for our body because we are all so different, and our needs change daily.
Using the scale allows us to eat in a balanced way without feeling restricted and without going hungry, which so many of us have experience of if we have tried restrictive diets before.
The important thing to remember with the hunger and fullness scale is that, like everything else when it comes to our health – perfect is not the goal.
It’s going to take quite a few attempts to get it right and to tune into our body to properly work out where we are on the scale.
Sometimes we might eat too much, sometimes we might eat too little and that is okay. It is all a part of re-learning how to tune into our hunger and fullness cues.
When we are first starting to tune into our bodies, I recommend that you ask yourself periodically throughout the day ‘Am I hungry? Where am I on the scale?’
As you learn to read the cues your body is giving you more, you will be able to do this less and less.
How do I use the scale?
- Before you eat, check in with your hunger: ‘How hungry am I?’ (Use the scale)
- If you are a 3 or a 4 on the scale it’s time to get something to eat.
- If you are eating, check in with yourself periodically throughout your meal to check in with your fullness level. Ideally we want to stop eating at around a 6-7.
A few notes…
As a guide, most people do well eating every 3-4 hours. That does not mean you have to eat every 3-4 hours.
It is also important to remember that this isn’t a ‘hunger and fullness’ diet. This is just a method to help you tune into your body more to help you find the perfect balance for you.
As you start to get used to tuning in more, get curious and notice how when you go longer in between food how does that affect your hunger level? Does it take you longer to get full?
What can you do differently next time to prepare for that happening again? (e.g. take a balanced snack to keep you going for longer in between meals).
Have a read of this post to find out more about what simplifying eating well means.
Do you use a hunger scale? How have you found that it has helped you?