Determining Hunger Levels

Do you ever find yourself mindlessly reaching for a snack and then once you’ve finished you realized you weren’t even hungry? Don’t worry – you are not alone! Often times people eat for a multitude of reasons that don’t have anything to do with hunger. The problem is that when we eat for reasons other than hunger, we become increasingly less in-tune with our hunger cues. Learning how to hear and obey these cues is one the simplest ways to maintain a healthy weight without constantly feeling deprived.

So, how do you listen to what your body is telling you? The first step is to try and figure out what your levels of hunger are. If you aren’t already logging your food on a weekly basis, I encourage you to pick a week to maintain a food log. Then, before every meal and/or snack you eat you should assign yourself a number between 1-10, “1” being “not at all hungry” and 10 being “hungry to the point of feeling ill.” As you go from day to day, and start to take note of all the numbers in your log, you will begin to realize when you feel the most hungry.

From there, you can look at your log as a whole and determine if there are patterns. For example, are you logging a “3” at noon everyday before you eat lunch? If so, maybe you don't need a morning snack. On the other hand, if you are logging a “9” at 6 pm every evening before you eat dinner then maybe you should add a healthy afternoon snack into your day to avoid feeling so starved before dinner. Right before you eat, the key is to be somewhere in the middle of the scale, between 4-8. You want to avoid eating when you aren’t at least moderately hungry, but also be careful not to get so hungry before a meal that you will be tempted to overeat. The window between a “5” and a “10” will be different depending on the person, so try to determine how quickly you escalate from “moderately hungry” to “hungry to the point of feeling ill”, and be aware of that when you plan your meals.

Once you are comfortable with the hunger scale, you can start to put it into action in real time. For example, when you are at a party and you go to reach for one of the many delicious looking appetizers, take a moment to assign yourself a number on the scale. If this number is between 1-3 then you may want to ask yourself, what is driving you to eat? Maybe it is because the food is visually appealing, or possibly you are excited to be at the party and food feels like a festive way to celebrate. If you determine that you're about to eat for a reason other than hunger then it might be a good idea to take a step back and revisit your decision. Instead, you may want to get a big glass of water or seltzer and engage yourself in conversation away from the food. Then, when your number increases, you can carefully choose the food items that will leave you feeling satisfied rather than overly full.

On a typical day when you are feeling like you are about to eat for a reason other than hunger, here are some ways to avoid this behavior:

  1. Drink water. Often times dehydration can mask itself as hunger, so before you decide to eat, drink a couple big glasses of water and see how you feel.

  2. Go for a walk. Whether you are at your desk at work, or home on the couch, get up and take a walk to experience a change of scenery before you eat something. You may just be bored with whatever you were doing, and even a 5 minute walk can help you refocus.

  3. Call a friend or family member. Sometimes all you need is a distraction and you will forget you were even planning to eat.

  4. Write in a journal. Sometimes food can be used to help us avoid other emotions circling in our heads. Picking up a pen and putting it to paper can be a very cathartic thing that can help you pinpoint what you are really feeling.

  5. Accomplish a task. Maybe you have a load of laundry that has been sitting in your house for a week, or a stack of bills needing to be filed. Focus your attention on completing a task that will make you feel productive and good about yourself.

Ultimately there will be times that you eat for reasons other than hunger, but learning to listen to your body and trying to follow those hunger cues as closely as possible will help you to make good decisions and avoid overeating. Use our Well Powered Meal log to track your food intake and hunger ratings!

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