Whether you have already started eating intuitively or are just interested in it, learning about the intuitive eating hunger scale is an essential part of mastering intuitive eating. Knowing what hunger feels like, what level of hunger you should eat and how to prevent extreme hunger are all important parts of intuitive eating.
What is the intuitive eating hunger fullness scale?
To start off, it’s probably a good idea to discuss what the hunger fullness scale is, just in case you don’t know. The hunger fullness scale is a scale used in intuitive eating to help you determine at what level of hunger you are at.
This is the intuitive eating hunger fullness scale, created by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in their book Intuitive Eating (affiliate link). At all times, we are somewhere on this scale, usually between set and full.
But, in some cases, we venture out towards “empty” or “sick”, which can lead to problems. When you are ravenous, this can lead to overeating or binge eating at your next meal.
On the other hand, feeling stuffed is super uncomfortable and is not something desirable for most. Coincidentally, being ravenous can easily turn into feeling stuffed when an insatiable appetite transforms into a large binge.
This scale is used to determine your level of hunger and then to determine if it’s time to eat or time to wait a little longer. In some cases, it’s ok to eat when you aren’t hungry, which is explained in more detail in the book.
How do you use the intuitive eating hunger fullness scale?
You should use the scale to determine when it is time to eat. You should wait until you’re hungry, but not too hungry, since this can lead to overeating or binge eating.
Try to wait until you are in between “set” and “pangs” to start looking for something to eat. This will likely start 2-4 hours after a meal, depending on the individual.
So when does “set” or “pangs” even mean? It depends on the individual, but it’s when you first start feeling those initial hunger pangs. This may feel like an emptiness in the stomach, a mild gnawing or gurgling, growling noises or feeling lightheaded. We will discuss some other signs later in the article.
When you first start feeling these hunger pangs, ideally you will want to eat something within 30 minutes or so. That way you avoid inching into the “ravenous” or “empty” zone.
When should I eat based on the intuitive eating hunger scale?
As mentioned above, you should wait until you are in between “set” and “pangs” to eat. If you wait until you are ravenous or empty, you will likely feel super uncomfortable and could overeat at your next meal.
This being said, there are situations where it’s ok to eat when you are feeling neutral to full. For example, if you are really craving a cookie, then it’s ok to give into that craving and eat a cookie, even if you are feeling full.
Physical and mental satisfaction are both important. Even if you aren’t physically hungry, satisfying a craving right now can help prevent that craving from growing to a point where you binge eat.
Also, sometimes a filling meal isn’t very satisfying. If you ate 4 cups of raw veggies, you will feel full, but you won’t feel satisfied. A good way to prevent this is ensuring you have a good source of carbohydrates, fat, protein and fiber at every meal and snack.
Make sure to incorporate foods you enjoy into your everyday diet as well. If you love chocolate and are craving it, add a square or two to your lunch. If you have to have dessert after dinner, have it! Ignoring these cravings can lead to more issues like binge eating.
What hunger can feel like
Now let’s discuss what hunger can feel like, because yes, hunger can present itself in a few different ways. Here are a few common signs of hunger that are described in the book Intuitive Eating (affiliate link):
- Growling noises
- Gurgling or gnawing in the stomach
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling faint
- Stomach pain or ache
While there could be other reasons these occur, if you haven’t eaten in 2-4 hours, it’s likely these are a sign of hunger. The stronger these feelings are, the hungrier you are.
It may be hard at first to determine what is a hunger cue and what isn’t, but eventually, with a little practice, it will come pretty intuitively. Just continue to be aware of these sensations and notice when they begin to appear and if they disappear after you’ve eaten.
Signs of extreme hunger
When it comes to extreme hunger, it’s really just those hunger cues mentioned above, but amplified to the point where it becomes very uncomfortable.
You’ll likely start experiencing extreme hunger about 4-5 hours after your last meal. This could be sooner if your last meal was rather small.
Another sign that you were experiencing extreme hunger is if you overeat or binge eat at your next meal. This is your body’s way of overcompensating for the amount of hunger you were feeling.
Ideally, you will want to avoid extreme hunger. If you know you won’t have access to food for a few hours, keep a snack on you. A granola bar, nuts or fruit are all great options you can keep in your purse or pocket in case of emergency.
Does intuitive eating actually work?
Well, it really depends on what you mean by “work”. If you mean weight loss, then it really depends. Some people gain weight with intuitive eating, some people lose weight and others maintain their weight.
The purpose of intuitive eating is to improve your relationship with food. It can be a good way to reduce binge eating and improve overall mental health and well being.
If you struggle with disordered eating patterns, chronic dieting and weight cycling, I would highly recommend intuitive eating. But, if your only goal is to lose weight, then intuitive eating is not going to be too helpful.
I know it may be difficult to hear, but if you are really struggling with your relationship with food, it’s going to be best to put weight loss on the back burner. Obsession with weight loss can increase disordered eating, eating disorder risk, weight cycling and can make your mental health suffer.
Intuitive eating is a great approach to learn how to trust your body, honor your cravings and let go of all those lies that diet culture has perpetuated for years. Plus, it can help improve your mental health and confidence, which is the end goal of weight loss anyways right?
So, if you are ready to stop dieting and start eating in an enjoyable and sustainable way, intuitive eating is for you.
Where can I learn more about intuitive eating?
If you want to learn more about intuitive eating and the intuitive eating hunger scale, I have plenty of resources on my blog:
For those struggling with binge eating specifically, I have an online course and ebook that goes into depth about all the evidence based strategies to overcome binge eating that have been shown to be effective:
Finally, if you want to dive deep into intuitive eating and learn about all of the ten principles, I highly recommend this book by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, the dietitians who invented intuitive eating:
Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch (affiliate link)