By Jessica Flaherty, RD
Jessica is one of the dietitians here at Not Your Average Nutritionist. She helps people heal their relationship with food so that they can live their life to the fullest.
What are hunger cues?
Our bodies are so smart! We are born with the ability to tell when we are hungry. As newborns, we cry to let people know we’re ready to eat and as we get older we learn to ask for food when our bodies want it. Hunger cues are the body’s built-in metabolic response that tells our brain when we need more food and when we’ve had enough. This might present itself as a growling stomach, change in moor, or even fatigue. However, the older we get the more aware we become of diet culture. Unfortunately, it has perpetuated ideas of restriction which can often throw off our hunger cues. Restricting food and denying our hunger cues, moves us further away from being in touch with what our bodies need. If we ignore them, we are more likely to overeat later on.
For a moment, compare hunger cues to the urge to pee, or how tired our eyes get at night when our body needs sleep. We don’t ignore the urge to pee and say, “oh no, I went a couple of hours ago, I’ll just wait a few more hours”. When our eyelids start to get tired at night we don’t force ourselves to stay awake, we crawl into bed and get a good night’s sleep. Our hunger cues deserve the same type of response- we should honor them by eating when we feel hungry.
Scale of 1-10
The hunger scale is a tool to help you figure out what level of hunger you are at to help you figure out the best next step to nourish your body. The scale numbers are as follows:
1: Ravenous, physical manifestations (feeling nauseous, dizzy or ill)
2: Extremely hungry, may have a headache or feel moody
3: Hungry, stomach may be growling, you don’t have much energy
4: Slightly hungry, stomach may feel slightly empty
5: Neutral, neither hungry nor full
6: Mild fullness, stomach may feel full but you don’t feel satisfied
7: Satisfied, you feel satisfied but if you eat more you may begin to feel uncomfortable
8: Uncomfortably full, you may feel slightly uncomfortable
9: Stuffed, you may feel very uncomfortable
10: Physically ill, physical manifestations (feeling nauseous, full and ill)
What do you notice about this scale? Both extremes (1 and 10) can result in feeling physically ill. What is the takeaway? It is helpful to find that balance in between where you aren’t painfully hungry, you aren’t uncomfortably full, but you’re somewhere in the middle feeling comfortably full and satisfied.
Why are they important?
Principle #2 of Intuitive Eating is “Honor Your Hunger”. Whether you’re on the journey of Intuitive Eating or not, this is a valuable principle. We know that other factors like chronic dieting, physical activity, and stress also affect hunger cues. Again, our bodies are so smart- they adapt! Building that trust with our bodies again can take time, but it will be time well spent.
So, what should I do?
A tool that may help is writing down how you are feeling before and after a meal. This doesn’t mean you have to do this before and after every meal every day, but checking in with yourself may help you determine what level of hunger you are experiencing.
A few ways to eat mindfully and check in with your hunger/fullness cues during a meal can be: putting your phone away, turning your tv off, putting down the fork in between bites, conversing with friends or family, and truly taking in the flavors and textures of the food. Although it’s easier said than done, honoring our hunger cues is the best thing for our bodies.
Regardless of what or how much we ate yesterday, our bodies are still worthy of eating food today. In fact, it is necessary that we do. It takes time to trust our hunger cues again, especially in recovery, but it is possible! And it is a journey worth going on.
If you need support with this, reach out to us here at NYAN and one of our dietitians would be happy to meet with you!
Book: Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S, FAND