Just like cars have a fuel gauge, wouldn't it be cool if our bodies came with a gauge that tells us how many calories we need to consume to gain, lose, or even maintain our weight?
While we don't have anything like that, there is one tool you can use to tune into your hunger and fullness meter. You'll be able to keep from overfilling your belly or going too long between meals.
Related - 9 Weight Loss Tips That Deliver Results
The Hunger Scale
Everyone has the ability to feel hunger and fullness. We were all born with it.
As a baby or kid, we don't really need to be told how much to eat to stay healthy. When we are satisfied, we lose interest in food and we move on.
Unfortunately, as we get older, these lines blur and we start to ignore it, confuse it with thirst, or just forget about it all together.
The great thing about the hunger scale is that even though we've forgotten how to say no to food, we can tune into our body and start recognizing and visualizing a hunger scale.
So if you imagine a meter ranging from 0 to 10, we can start being more mindful of how much food we actually need. We all have different experiences and symptoms of being hungry or full.
0 = Empty
I want to eat everything. I'm definitely getting dessert and if I'm cooking, I'm going to eat while I cook.
I also may have low blood sugar because I'm starting to feel dizzy, lightheaded, and hangry.
This is a hunger level that makes people eat their co-worker's lunches and makes you steal candy from babies.
1 - About Empty
My energy levels are so low that my productivity is down. I feel shaky, I can't concentrate, and I'm having pretty bad mood swings.
I definitely need to eat, but I need to finish this bit of work that I've been struggling with.
2 - Really Hungry
My stomach growls so loud that people are looking at me. All I can think about is getting food and I'll probably order unhealthy food.
My energy levels are dropping and I'm starting to wonder who can deliver me food the fastest.
3 - Hungry
I'm ready to eat. I haven't started feeling any physical symptoms, although if I don't stop and eat, I will.
4 - Slightly Hungry
I'm starting to think about my next meal. Food is starting to sound good but isn't something I'm worried about yet.
If I do eat, it won't take much to fill me up.
I can go to the grocery store without buying anything extra.
5 - Neutral
Food is not on my mind, I'm not really hungry or full, and I'm feeling good inside.
6 - Slightly Satisfied
I've eaten and I could certainly eat more. If I stopped eating, I could go about two hours before I need something else to eat.
This is a good level to feel after eating a snack.
7 - Satisfied
I should put my food away. I've eaten plenty to satisfy my hunger and caloric needs.
It is still easy to eat more if it tastes good or for comfort reasons.
8 - Full
I cleaned off my plate and fought through the last few bites. I probably could have stopped eating half-way through my meal.
I wish I didn't have these jeans on.
9 - Nearing Uncomfortable
I definitely overate. Instead of saving the rest of this food for lunch tomorrow, it's gone.
I zoned out and ate everything that I could have. All I can think about is how full I am.
10 - Stuffed
I'm rather irritated I just ate a family's worth of food. I'm definitely going to have to put on some stretchy pants and I'm probably going to sleep on the couch.
I probably won't get much done for hours and I definitely am not happy with how stuffed I am.
3 Tips to Use the Hunger Scale
It's easy to judge yourself on how you haven't been eating properly. If you want to gain better control over your senses and cut down on mindful or emotional eating, utilize the hunger scale.
1.) Start by ranking your hunger before you even start to eat.
If you have ranked yourself a 0-2, be aware of how fast you are eating. It is easy to pass through being satisfied without even recognizing it. Having 30 minutes for lunch in schools have ruined our ability to eat slow and enjoy foods. We tend to carry this on after school is over.
You start feeling hunger at 4 and slight satisfaction is at 6. Eating at this level is normal, although it will take a surprisingly small amount of food to feel satisfied. This is a good snack level.
If you are satisfied and not physically hungry, ask yourself why you are about to eat. If you are trying to rationalize emotional or comfort eating, you are likely to overeat and cause discomfort.
The discomfort hurts even worse when whatever void you were trying to fill by eating is still empty.
2. You're about half-way done eating, rank your hunger again.
As you eat, continue to make a mental note of your hunger level.
I was raised to never waste food and to always clean your plate. It's obvious that I've since then not had the same control over my eating as someone who had been taught better.
Eating to feel satisfied can happen in as little as a few bites, so constantly asking yourself if you really need this is important to keep from overeating.
If you are full and still have food on the plate, immediately put it up, throw it out, or give it to someone else. It's going to feel weird at first, but once you stop eating yourself uncomfortable, you'll start feeling refreshed instead of tired after eating.
3.) If you are still eating, finish your meal and rank your hunger again.
If you've been portioning out meals and planning meals in advance, finishing your meal isn't "bad."
What is bad is when you go for seconds or third helpings when you should have stopped just before finishing your first.
But it tastes so good.
Dialing in our portion sizes so that we can eat everything without feeling like we overate will help force us not to overeat.
If you've overeaten, don't beat yourself up over it. Start eating a little slower and start pulling yourself to stay in the lower numbers of the hunger scale.
While you will feel more hunger, eating slower will help you actually feel when you are satisfied.
I'm still working on eating until I'm satisfied and eating slower has helped tremendously. How fast you eat literally makes the difference between eating half of my Subway Footlong and half of a bag of Sun Chips and being satisfied, to eating 2 full footlongs and wondering where I went wrong in life.
Assessing if Your Hunger Scale is Broken
If you constantly put yourself into uncomfortable territories, realize that overeating is easy to do.
One problem comes from our highly-processed foods. Whenever I eat something at a fast food restaurant or otherwise processed meal, I almost always miss my cue that I'm satisfied.
Whenever I cook my meals and have a nice protein with some veggies, I almost never finish my plate. It's not because I don't know how to cook, it's because I feel satisfied.
Look, I'm a binge eater, I've been known to emotionally eat, and I really don't like eating around people.
In order to tune into this scale and start eating intuitively, we have to break our habits.
Using the hunger scale will help us give boundaries to eating. It's really tough to determine how hungry we are when we haven't felt the need to do so.
If you're almost always full and never experience your stomach growling and shrinking, you may want to start trying to stay on the lower side of the hunger scale. You'll start to feel what actual hunger is.
Eat Healthier Foods
Eating a balanced diet that incorporates many food groups will help you recalibrate your scale.
Preparing your meals in advance will also help show your body what it really needs.
Use a TDEE calculator to assess how many calories you actually need, and start preparing meals in advance.
You'll start to feel the natural peaks and valleys of satiety and you'll start getting a better handle on where you are at on the hunger scale.
Take Away Points
If you've made it through the whole article, great job.
Here are some takeaway points from someone who suffers from the same things you may suffer from.
1.) Start eating slower.
I really, really don't like eating around people. I know that's not healthy and I know that's a problem. If you are like me, eating around people or eating somewhere someone may see me eating makes me eat much slower.
I'm more proper, I make sure I eat slow enough that I don't drop food all over me, and I generally don't eat as much.
2.) Cook your own (healthy) food.
I can cook a box of mac and cheese and down it faster than it took to cook it.
I could cook some chicken breasts on the grill, saute some onions and mushrooms in a garlic butter, and cook some rice and eat a flavorful and healthy meal.
My satiety comes pretty fast from eating whole foods compared to highly-processed foods. Choose wisely.
3.) Don't beat yourself up, but be honest with yourself.
You know you didn't need that third donut. You know you really didn't need that large soda.
That's fine that you got it, but being real with yourself and knowing that you overate is half of the battle.
You can eat whatever you want in moderation and lose weight. Have your steak and eggs, bacon, biscuits and gravy, and whatever other foods sound good; but use the hunger scale or prepare your meals in advance.
The only way you can control your trigger and comfort foods is if you start being hurtfully honest with yourself.
4.) It's okay to be hungry.
As I have been intermittent fasting, I've purposely gone longer than I needed to without food.
Because I wanted to see what it's like to actually NEED food. No, I wasn't trying to starve myself. No, I wasn't trying to develop another eating disorder. I simply wanted to see what it meant and felt like when I truly needed food.
Now that I have a better understanding, I know that honestly about 60% of the food I eat, I don't really need it.
It feels good to eat it, it makes my anxieties go away, and it's easier to follow my habit of overeating instead of being honest with myself.
5.) Start logging your food intake.
Whether you want to post this online or not, logging how much you eat helps open your eyes to glaringly obvious signs.
When you log your food and exercise, you have an accurate picture of what may or may not be working, what you can change, and how you should do it.
Making healthy choices doesn't mean you have to ditch every comfort food you eat, it means we need to stop eating when we are satisfied, not until it's gone.
Be alarmingly accurate. This doesn't mean you need to weigh how much ice cream you've eaten, but if you've bent your spoon to get a bigger scoop, write it down. Be honest with yourself.
While posting online or having someone who can help hold you accountable helps tremendously, a simple notepad or an old spiral notebook you used to use in one of your classes is good enough.
6.) Focus on getting more activity.
The more activity I do during the day, the less time I have to sit here and think about eating.
Parking further out in the parking lot, getting out and working outside of the house, and even cleaning the house while dancing burns a decent amount of calories.
Life is movement, so stay moving.
7.) Start meal prepping.
Planning your meals to work with your demands will give you the best results.
If you have every meal mapped out, planned, and cooked, you only need to heat up the container.
You will be able to eat everything knowing you won't be overeating. Although, I would still utilize the hunger scale so you can learn your body more.
8.) Live and learn.
If you've been doing well for the last couple of weeks and then you go overboard on your lunch and dinner like I did the night before I am writing this article, it's okay.
Enjoy life and start being more conscious about what you're eating, and how much you eat of it.
Making reasonable choices and putting thought into your goals every day will help you say no to the McFlurry or may save you from eating an entire pizza after you ate $35 in sushi just hours before.