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Exploring Your Hunger Cues

"Honor Your Hunger" is the second of 10 principles in Intuitive Eating - which is an evidence-based model and a flexible approach to eating. Learn why hunger cues have our backs, and some tools for tuning into your hunger signals.

Honor Your Hunger

There you are going about your day - while experiencing the increasing sensation that you REALLY need to pee. So which of the options below do you do next?

A) Contemplate if it's alright for you to pee.

B) Exclaim, "I don't want to ruin my day by peeing!"

C) Head to the bathroom as quickly as you can and take care of business - without giving it a second thought.

I'm guessing that most of you opted to make a run for the restroom - without analyzing the situation. Am I right?! Would you agree that we're typically encouraged to use the restroom when needed?

When it comes to experiencing biological's a different story. Diet culture portrays experiencing hunger signals as the enemy. As something to suppress. In light of these diety messages, it's pretty common for clients to tell me that when they've gone on a diet they have tried to ignore their hunger - because they used up all of the calories, points, etc. on their plan. This has frequently resulted in extreme hunger, obsessing about food, overeating, feeling unsure of how and what to eat, and starting the cycle all over again. If you've experienced this, you are not alone. Dieting doesn't work for most people and can be harmful.


The reality is that when your body is experiencing physical hunger, it's telling you that it needs energy. That it needs to be fed. Learning how to tune into hunger cues can help us determine which delicious food combinations help us feel the most satisfied and comfortably full as we experience different levels of hunger throughout the week. When we tune into our hunger signals - and honor our hunger through food - we take an important step towards developing a healthier relationship with food and our bodies.

It's worth noting that most people know when they're extremely hungry. However, chronic dieting can lessen people's ability to tune into more subtle hunger cues. The good news is that with time, practice, and some self-compassion, it can become much easier to tune into our hunger signals. Many of you as babies knew when you were hungry - and ate - and stopped when you were full. Once upon a time you ate intuitively.

Intuitive Eating


So what do hunger cues feel like? How we each experience hunger can be different from one another. Some of you might experience a growling stomach - while other people may feel hunger in different parts of the body. Some might experience a dull headache, feel snappy, or feel faint - to name a few examples. By practicing listening to your body's physical sensations, you'll eventually be able to identify if they represent that you need to eat - or if you're actually enduring something like a sinus headache.

I will add that if you take a medication that impacts your appetite, are living with a health condition that's affecting your ability to feel when you're hungry, or have dulled your hunger cues through chronic dieting, it's important to work with a dietitian who specializes in Intuitive Eating and can partner with you to meet your nutritional needs/assist you with navigating your non-diet journey.


One tool that I like to use with clients to help them tune into their different levels of hunger is the Hunger and Fullness Scale. I've adapted this scale below from the fantastic book, Intuitive Eating. While we're focusing today on tuning into our hunger, in the future we'll talk more about the 5th principle of Intuitive Eating - Respect Your Fullness.

0 - Painfully hungry, faint. Extremely intense.

1 - Ravenous and cranky. Anxious to eat, distracted by hunger.

2 - Very hungry. Really ready to eat some food.

3 - Hungry, stomach is growling. Ready to eat, but not feeling anxious.

4 - A bit hungry, stomach is slightly empty.

5 - Neutral. Not hungry or full.

6 - Starting to feel slightly full, but could comfortably consume more food.

7 - Comfortably full. Consuming more food would cause uncomfortable fullness.

8 - A little too full. Not quite at the point of feeling unpleasant, but it doesn't feel pleasant either.

9 - Uncomfortably full. Ready to put some sweat pants on - or unbutton pants/remove belt.

10 - Painfully full/absolutely stuffed. May feel nauseous.

Many people notice that they're hungry for food when they reach 3 or 4 on the scale, and feel comfortably full at 7. To practice ranking your hunger level, prior to eating, select your hunger level on a scale of 0-10 using the information above. Then rank your degree of hunger partway through your snack/meal - followed by ranking it again 25-30 minutes after finishing eating. While this will take some time and patience, as you continue to incorporate this strategy into your life, you'll become more confident in pinpointing your various hunger levels. And remember, this is not a hunger/fullness diet.


So let's say you want to work on tuning into your hunger, but ranking it with a number seems a bit overwhelming. That's OK! You have great self-awareness! In this case, you could try asking yourself before a snack or meal, "How do I feel right now? Is my hunger pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral?" If you're answer is "unpleasant," ask yourself, "What's causing me to feel this way? How can my hunger feel more pleasant when I have my next snack or meal?" Try doing this 2-3 times a day. As funny as this may sound, as you continue to ask yourself these simple questions, listening to your body will eventually begin to feel more natural - and you will be more confident in your ability to tune into your hunger cues.

Remember, there is no pass or fail when you're working with Intuitive Eating! It's a journey. You deserve to listen to your body, unlearn those external food rules, and nurture from within.

If you would like to work with me on developing a healthier relationship with food and your body, or on general wellness concerns, click here to learn more about my private one-on-one sessions! Happy eating!

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