The Hunger Scale & Appetite Awareness

As we have discussed in the litany of other posts on my blog, it is all too common for us to have no idea what’s going on with our hunger cues. The Hunger Scale is a commonly used tool by intuitive eating practitioners. I’m going to run through some of the uses and benefits of such a tool.

Satiety? Never Heard of Her

Satiety, or feelings of fullness after eating, is a phenomena that seems almost alien in the modern food environment. Dieting, food choices, hormones, stress, our environment, mental state and a whole host of physiological processes all influence our satiety signals.

Satiety is not something that can be narrowed down to one “cause and effect”. However, it is important to note that the modern food environment makes it particularly challenging to be attune to your hunger and fullness signals.

So, what can we do?

The onus, therefore, falls on us to go against the grain of society, and do a bit of work ourselves to ensure we are listening to our body. This is not easy, and it can certainly be a momentous undertaking. Particularly, if you have spent years supressing your body’s hunger signals, through “filling up” on diet foods/sweeteners/low calorie options, or overriding your satiety signals by drowning them in a myriad of Doritos, spicebags and binges (guilty!)

That is also not to say that something as complex as your relationship with food and potential disordered thoughts you may have around it can be fixed with the Hunger Scale. Of course not. But, it is a tool you can keep in your toolbox to help you on your journey.

What is the Hunger Scale?

There are various Hunger Scales out there. The one I have used is from the University of Berkeley[1].

The Hunger Scale ranges from 1-10, with 1 being absolutely starving, and 10 being absolutely stuffed to the point of sickness.

The Hunger Scale ranges as follows:

  • 10 – Extremely stuffed, nauseous
  • 9 – Stuffed, very uncomfortable
  • 8 – Overfull, somewhat uncomfortable
  • 7 – Full, but not uncomfortable
  • 6 – Satisfied, but could eat more
  • 5 – Starting to feel hungry
  • 4 – Hungry, stomach growling
  • 3 – Uncomfortably hungry, distracted, irritable
  • 2 – Very hungry, low energy, weak, dizzy
  • 1 – Starving, low energy, very weak

The sweet spot ranges from 4-7, and generally you want to remain within this range throughout the day.

Using the Hunger Scale

The scale takes a bit of getting used to, particularly at the beginning. If you’re not used to sitting with hunger or fullness beyond being starving or stuffed, you mind find it a little difficult to accurately rank. And that is perfectly normal. Over time, you will gain experience with what certain numbers feel like for you and your body. It is totally natural for this to fluctuate with life.

The Hunger Scale can be used to promote mindful eating. Mindful eating can help you to identify emotions and the impact they have on your food intake. Mindful eating methods are linked with a decrease in emotional eating, and an increase in awareness of appetite[2].

The Hunger Scale might help you identify triggers and emotions that affect your food intake. You might find that when you are bored, you eat. Or, if you’re upset, you eat way beyond the point of fullness. It is all individual, and it is all data.

Ok, time to try this hippie shit out.

Before You Eat

Before you eat a meal, use the scale to identify where you are currently sitting on the hunger scale. You can use the following prompts to guide your rating:

  • Where do I feel hunger (e.g. in your stomach, in your heart (yay sadness))
  • How hydrated am I? (Dehydration can mimic hunger)
  • What does my stomach tell me?
  • What am I feeling emotionally?

These prompts can help distinguish physiological from psychological hunger, and give you a more accurate rating.

Whilst Eating

During a meal, it is obviously impractical for you to be rating the food out of 10 every few bites. However, you can try the following tips to help you assess for fullness during the meal:

  • Eat slowly
  • Drink fluids alongside you meal
  • Chew your food thoroughly
  • Check in on your fullness level halfway through your meal – enter the Hunger Scale.

After Eating

Ideally, you want to stop eating around 5-6 on the hunger scale, so that you aren’t stuffed or feeling sick. Satiety is the goal here, not finishing everything on your plate because you “have to”. As my coach, the great Emilia Thompson, once said:

Eat for your goals, and not anyone else’s.

You don’t have to finish everything on your plate because it’s there. Similarly, if you need to put more food onto your plate, that’s totally fine too. This is also a hard concept to grasp, and something I still struggle with, so try not to be so hard on yourself!

References

  1. University of Berkeley (2018) The Hunger-Satiety Scale. Available at: https://uhs.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/wellness-hungersatietyscale.pdf (Accessed 22 June 2021).
  2. Lattimore, P. (2020) ‘Mindfulness-based emotional eating awareness training: taking the emotional out of eating’, Eating & Weight Disorders, 25(3), pp. 649-657.

Published by Michelle Carroll

I am a qualified personal trainer and radiographer. I believe in empowering others to make better choices for their health through education. I think that the fitness industry has created a disconnect between best practices and “evidence-based” practices. I am hoping that by chronicling my experience as a healthcare professional and my education as a fitness professional I can assist others on the path to bettering themselves.

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