• December 9, 2022

Hunger and Fullness – Can You Feel Your Cues?

Can you feel your hunger and fullness cues? Perhaps you find yourself feeling fine all day, then absolutely ravenous wanting […]

Can you feel your hunger and fullness cues?

Perhaps you find yourself feeling fine all day, then absolutely ravenous wanting to eat everything in sight.

For many people, identifying hunger and fullness cues can be a struggle. It’s something we have the ability to use as children, but as we go through life, it can be harder to know whether we can fully trust our bodies internal signals.

The Hunger And Fullness Scale

A good way to identify how hungry or full we are, is by using what we call the hunger and fullness scale. This is a scale which ranges from 1-8 where; 1 is starving, and 8 is uncomfortably full or the feeling of being in a ‘food coma’.

Ideally, we want to start eating when we are sitting around a 3 on the scale. In this zone you will start to notice some of the physical signs of hunger such as your stomach growling or a dip in energy levels.

hunger and fullness scale


The reason we don’t want to push our hunger beyond this point is because the hungrier we become, the harder it is for us to make positive, nourishing food choices.

Instead, we are more likely to opt for quick fixes.

Zone 6 is the ideal zone to finish eating. This is when you are about 80% physically full.

At this point you are satisfied from your meal, and you may notice the food no longer tastes quite as good as it did at the start. This should be a comfortable amount of fullness and pushing past a 6 may mean you start to become uncomfortably full.




What Can Help Me Identify My Hunger and Fullness?

Before even trying to start tuning into your hunger/fullness, it is important to establish regular eating patterns.

This is because, if you leave large gaps between meals, your body can start to enter what we call the restrict-overeat cycle as you haven’t eaten enough food throughout the day. When you are in this cycle it makes it very difficult to tune into your true hunger and fullness.

Start by eating 3 meals and 2-3 snacks with no more than 3 hours between (e.g breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, evening snack). Once this is a regular routine for you, you can start to refer to the scale above.

How Do I Know I’m Actually Hungry?

If you have been ignoring your hunger cues for a long period of time, it is very normal that these hunger signals may disappear.

The most well recognised sign of hunger is stomach hunger or growling.

But, it is not the only sign and may not always even be present. Some other signs to look out for include; light headedness, shakiness or a drop in energy levels.

Physical vs psychological hunger

Sometimes when we start craving food, it is actually psychological hunger rather than physical hunger that we are experiencing. A few ways to differentiate between the two include:

Physical hunger:

  • Increases gradually over time
  • You could wait a little bit to eat if you had to
  • Most types of food will be able to satisfy your hunger


Psychological hunger:

  • Comes out of nowhere
  • Sense of urgency or panic to eat
  • Often you want a specific type of food and won’t be satisfied until that need is met
  • Often comes out in response to a feeling e.g. stress, anger or sadness – in these cases, often no type or amount of food will be satisfying


To help identify if you are experiencing physical or psychological hunger, we recommend you try using the HALT acronym:

Before you eat, ask yourself, am I..

  • Hungry
  • Angry
  • Lonely or
  • Tired


A food and thoughts/emotions diary can also be helpful to start identifying why you are eating.

In this diary, write down the all your meals/snacks each day as well as when you ate them.

Alongside this, add a column to journal the thoughts and feelings you had surrounding why you made those food choices as well as any emotions that came up. An emotions wheel can help you identify specific emotions.


How Do I Deal With Psychological Hunger?

If you have identified that it is psychological hunger you are experiencing, then it is a good idea to come up with some strategies other than food to help target these emotions. This is because even though food might work to numb these emotions, they won’t actually fix them.


Using The Delay, Distract Disarm Method

This is one tool you can use when you start to notice an initial craving to eat something, but you know you aren’t physically hungry. For instance, you may have just had a meal/snack recently and your body isn’t showing any signs of hunger.


Step 1: Delay

Delay the emotional eating by at least 20mins (most strong cravings/emotions will peak and pass in this time)


Step 2: Distract

In the meantime distract yourself by doing an activity to meet the needs of the underlying emotion. For example:

  • calling a friend/family member
  • meditation or yoga
  • journaling
  • going for a walk
  • listening to music or a podcast
  • reading or watching a show
  • having a relaxing bath


Step 3: Disarm

Adjust your food environment to support your goal of not emotional eating. This includes steps such as:

  • Eating regular meals and snacks
  • Keep your environment stocked up with nutritious satisfying snacks such as fruit, nuts and popcorn that will make you feel good after eating them
  • Keep fun foods (like chocolate and lollies) out of direct reach/sight


What Does It Mean To Eat When You’re Bored?

If you find you are regularly eating out of boredom, it is still important to have an action plan in place,

This might mean moving to a different room away from food or doing one of the above tasks.

If you find this is a regular occurrence for you, maybe try joining a community group or trying a new hobby.

Perhaps even think of things you used to enjoy doing as a child to get you started.



Is It Okay To Overeat?

Yes, sometimes there are times when it is necessary and useful to eat past normal fullness.

For example, if you know you will have a long gap until your next meal/snack.

Maybe you have a long work shift with no breaks and know you will be starving by the end.

In this instance it is probably a good idea to eat a bit more than you usually would before your shift to prevent feeling ravenous by the end.

Food is also a big part of socialising, community and joy and sometimes in these settings it is also ok to eat past your fullness cues. For example, eating out at your favourite restaurant you don’t go to often or when your grandma has made you your favourite meals.

In Summary:

Understanding and responding to your hunger and fullness cues is a journey. There is no right or wrong way to do this.

It just takes practice.

By tuning into your body’s signals and establishing regular eating patterns, you can take the first steps in building a healthy relationship with food.

Use the strategies we’ve discussed in this article to build your own toolbox to help improve your own ability to identify cues.

This blog post has been based on Episode 4 of the Imbodi Health Podcast – Are You In Tune With Your Hunger and Fullness hosted by Credentialed Eating Disorder Dietitian Kiah Paetz. This has been edited by Dietitian Jade Wrigley.



Related Post

Browse more from the same category

Is It Safe To Exercise During ED Recovery With Alanah Reiley

pink yoga matt and pink dumbells on a pink background

Navigating exercise during eating disorder recovery can feel incredibly overwhel

Making Peace With Your Body With Amber Dwinell

Photo of psychologist Amber Dwinell

Join us as we chat with Amber Dwinell to take a deep dive into making peace with

Getting Started with Intuitive Eating And The Non-Diet Approach

getting started with intuitive eating and the non-diet approach

Understanding Intuitive Eating and the Non-Diet Approach Getting started with in