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Home > Wellness > Health Library > Healthy Eating: Recognizing Your Hunger Signals
One reason that many of us are not at a healthy weight is because,
somewhere along the line, we stopped listening to our body signals that
naturally tell us when we're hungry and when we're full.
signals are still there, but we're out of practice when it comes to paying
attention to them.
Learning to recognize those signals again can
help you get to a healthy weight and stay there.
find out what signals you are following. Keep a
food journal for 2 weeks, or longer if you need to.
Write down not only when and what you eat but also what you were doing and
feeling before you started eating. Using the hunger scale below, write down
where you were on the scale before you ate and where you were
When you look back at your food journal, you may see
some eating patterns. For example, you may find that you almost always eat
dinner in front of the TV. You may find that you always eat an evening snack,
even when you're not hungry. You may find that you often snack when you "feel"
like you want to eat (because of boredom, stress, or some other emotion), but
you're not truly hungry.
A hunger scale can help you learn how to tell the
difference between true, physical hunger and hunger that's really just in your
head. Psychological hunger is a desire to eat that is caused by emotions,
like stress, boredom, sadness, or happiness.
When you feel hungry
even though you recently ate, check to see if what you're feeling is really a
craving brought on by something psychological.
When you start
feeling like you want something to eat, rate your hunger on a scale of 1 to 10,
with 1 being starving and 10 being so full you feel sick. A rating of 5 or 6
means you're comfortable—neither too hungry nor too full.
To eat naturally, the way a baby does, eat when your hunger
is at 3 or 4. Don't wait until your hunger gets down to 1 or 2. Getting too
hungry can lead to overeating. When you sit down to a scheduled meal, stop and
think how hungry you are. If you feel less hungry than usual, make a conscious
effort to eat less food than usual. Stop eating when you reach 5 or 6 on the
For your body to be truly satisfied, your meals
need to be balanced. This means that each meal should contain:
Your meals should contain tastes that you like and want.
This also helps you feel satisfied.
Try to stop eating before you get too full. Too
full is uncomfortable. It means you ate too much.
Get in touch
with what "satisfied," or "pleasantly full," feels like for you.
Your appetite, which can include a desire for sweets or other
less-than-healthy treats, is a strong body signal. And part of keeping your
body at that "satisfied" level on the hunger scale is eating tastes that you
like and want.
If we try to have an eating plan that cuts out all
treats, we probably won't stay with that plan. In fact, we're more likely to eat too much of those foods.
important to recognize when it's your appetite talking instead of your true
hunger. Knowing which body signal is talking can help you control what you are
If you're eating healthy and listening to your body
signals, a piece of birthday cake or an occasional order of french fries can
fit into your healthy eating plan. When the holidays come around, it's okay to
eat the traditional foods you love. Just keep listening to your body signals
and eat only enough to reach that "satisfied" level.
Other Works Consulted
Katz DL, Friedman RSC (2008). Hunger, appetite, taste, and satiety.
In Nutrition in Clinical Practice, 2nd ed., pp. 377–390.
Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Whitney E, Rolfes SR (2011). Energy balance and body composition. In Understanding Nutrition, 12th ed., pp. 240–260. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
September 23, 2013
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine & Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
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