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Recognizing Your Hunger & Fullness

Here’s a scenario that’s familiar to many of us: you’re enjoying a meal, eating quickly, and not paying much attention to your food. Once your plate is empty you go back for seconds (because it tastes so good!), and halfway through your second plate, it hits you. You’re so full that it’s uncomfortable, and you wish you could go back in time and slow down your eating.

Here’s the thing: you can partially blame this over-fullness on biology. It takes about 20 minutes for the body to tell the brain that it’s full. This means that you can be almost finished with your second plate of food before feeling the sensation of fullness that came from the first plate of food. When’s the last time you spent more than 20 minutes eating a meal? For many of us, this is a rare occurrence.

Slowing down your eating can help you avoid this overfull feeling. Another approach is to tune in to your hunger and fullness before, during, and after eating. Relying on your body to tell you when it’s hungry and full might come easier for some people than others, but it’s a great way to give your body the amount of food it needs to thrive without having to constantly diet or track your food.

Check out the Hunger and Fullness Scale above.

Each number on the scale corresponds with a feeling of either hunger or fullness. Hunger corresponds with the lower numbers on the scale, and fullness corresponds with the higher numbers. Ideally, we always want to be in “the zone,” meaning we never get below a 3 or above a 6 on the scale (too hungry or too full).

A good way to use this tool is to check in with your hunger/fullness before, during, and after each meal. If you’re a 4 or lower, it’s time to eat. Halfway through the meal or snack, check in again with where you are on the scale. Use this awareness to decide whether or not you want to get more food. To determine when you’re finished eating, check in once again. At the end of a meal, I always encourage people to be closer to a 6 (“satisfied”) than a 5 (“physically full”). This is because when we are satisfied and not just physically full, we are less likely to find ourselves back in the kitchen an hour after a meal eating snacks out of the fridge. Satisfaction is important!

Use this scale in whichever way works best for you. It may take some practice, but tuning into your body’s hunger and fullness cues is a great way to be more mindful while eating.

If you have questions on the Hunger and Fullness Scale, I am happy to answer them. Feel free to email me at to learn more about how you can use this tool in your day to day life.

Also, if you want to find clarity regarding what your body needs nutritionally to feel your best, I’m here for you. As a dietitian and health coach, I help people figure out a way of eating that helps them optimize their health in the long term, without a dieting or weight focus. I am currently offering free initial nutrition sessions for new clients, so to learn more about me or to schedule your free session, click here.

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