How to Practice Mindful Eating using the Hunger Scale
Disclaimer: Keep in mind that the Hunger Scale is just a guide, not a “diet” or something to use every time you eat. It is simply a tool to get to know your own body’s hunger cues. Some people might find it triggering of eating disorder or disordered eating behaviours.
If you struggle with disordered eating and chronic dieting, please email me! I can either help you or refer you to someone who can 🙂
There are so many rules out there when it comes to eating that it can be exhausting and overwhelming!
From eating only “good” foods, eating at certain times, and having a predetermined amount you should eat — these rules truly take away the pleasure and intuitive nature of eating. I’ve created a new food and eating mantra to help you eliminate food rules once and for all.
Although, I recognize that giving yourself complete freedom when eating can be uncomfortable and unnerving especially when you may be used to following food/diet rules. To help you accomplish this, start by practicing the principles of intuitive and mindful eating.
In a nutshell, intuitive and mindful eating is a practice that allows you to get back to being more attuned to your body’s hunger and fullness cues by being present in your eating experience. It’s meant to help you make food decisions based on these cues, rather than by a prescribed diet/rulebook.
Keep in mind that everybody experiences hunger differently; the first form of hunger that you feel may not be the traditional “stomach hunger”. Other signs of hunger are just as important to pay attention to, such as shakiness, low energy, irritability, headache, stomach pains, or poor attention span.
In addition to using the hunger scale, we can also think about what type of hunger we are feeling: physical, heart, or mouth hunger.
- Physical hunger is any of the physical symptoms that you feel when you are hungry, listed above.
- Heart hunger arises when we are feeling sad, stressed, or bored. This “hunger” is emotion-driven. Although food can often be comforting, and there’s nothing wrong with that, we also want to make sure we’re taking care of our emotions.
- Mouth hunger happens when we crave a certain taste or food. Ever smelled a delicious scent from a bakery along the road and your mouth started salivating and craving the taste of that scrumptious baked good? That’s mouth hunger and it often brings a lot of joy to our lives too!
Now, what about the hunger scale?
We were all born with a sense of intuition that led us to cry when we’re hungry, and pull away when we’re full. When we grow up, we get conditioned to ignore those cues. This can happen from believing that we HAVE to finish our plates, regardless of how we are feeling.
The hunger scale can be used as tool to help you identify the normal fluctuations of hunger that you may feel throughout the day. Ideally, we would fluctuate between a 3 and 8 (as shown below) throughout the day, and avoid getting to the extremes on either end. This will help us avoid the restriction cycle which I’ll touch on below.
It is completely normal to be too busy to eat and to get to a 1 or 2 where you are starving, or eat something so delicious that you eat to a 9 or 10 and feel stuffed. That’s life! The aim is not for perfection but for an understanding of your body’s cues.
Following diet rules and subscribing to external cues (such as finishing all the food on your plate regardless of how much is served) instead of listening to your body’s internal cues (such as the sensation of fullness in your stomach or noticing your desire to eat is diminished), can cause your hunger and fullness cues to be out of whack. The following hunger scale can, over time, help you become more attuned with your body and will help you pick back up on your hunger and fullness cues. You won’t need to reference this as you start recognizing your cues, so be aware of making this a “hunger-fullness diet”; it’s a tool, not a rule.
Try it out! Where do you fall on the hunger scale right now? and where do you usually feel the biggest struggle?
How to use the hunger scale
Before you sit down to eat a meal or snack, ask yourself “Where do I fall on the hunger scale?” Ideally your cues would kick in and you’d start eating when you feel around a 3 or 4. Sometime during your meal, take a short pause from eating to check in with how your body is feeling.
If you find yourself eating beyond your normal fullness, it might be that you have missed out on eating sufficiently during the day. This doesn’t mean that you should drop everything and treat it like another food rule. It just means that you want to know where else in your day are you missing on picking up cues to EAT!
If we regularly find ourselves in the “starving” and “stuffed” ranges on the hunger scale, we can easily fall into the restrict-binge cycle (as seen on the right). This is a dangerous cycle that perpetuates an unhealthy relationship with food, hunger, and our body’s natural cues. We feel guilt about letting ourselves get to a 9 or 10, or feel like we’ve “made up for it” by letting ourselves drop to a 1 or 2, and THAT, my friend, is the reason why most people keep blaming themselves, and keep falling for the diet mentality over and over again.
All of these tools can help us rediscover how our body responds to hunger and which kinds of hunger we are feeling. This, in turn, helps us get into the mindset of intuitive and mindful eating practices.
Forget the food rules and start trusting your gut when it comes to hunger and fullness!
This blog was written with the help of dietetics students, Celine and Emma.