Figure out where you are now
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.
Use a hunger scale
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.
- 1—Starving, weak, dizzy
hungry, cranky, low energy, lots of stomach growling
hungry, stomach is growling a little
- 4—Starting to feel a little
- 5—Satisfied, neither hungry nor full
- 6—A little
full, pleasantly full
- 7—A little
- 8—Feeling stuffed
- 9—Very uncomfortable,
- 10—So full you feel sick
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
When it's time to eat, make healthy choices
For your body to be truly satisfied, your meals
need to be balanced. This means that each meal should contain:
Carbohydrate. You get
this from grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Protein. You get this from meat, fish, eggs, milk, yogurt,
cheese, dry beans, and nuts.
Fat. You get
the kinds of fat that help you stay healthy from:
- Fish, walnuts, and flaxseeds and flaxseed
oil. These have omega-3 fatty acids.
- Olive, canola, and peanut
oils; most nuts; avocados; and olives. These have monounsaturated
- Safflower, corn, sunflower, sesame, soybean, and cottonseed
oils. These have polyunsaturated fats.
Your meals should contain tastes that you like and want.
This also helps you feel satisfied.
Learn when to stop eating
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.
- Relax before you start eating, and then eat
slowly. Remember that it takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your
brain that you're full.
- Stop a quarter of the way through your
meal, and check your hunger level. If you're still hungry, keep eating, but
stop again at the halfway point. No matter what your parents taught you, you
don't have to clean your plate.
- Learn what
proper portions are. We're used to restaurant portions, but restaurant portions
usually contain much more food than we need.
Don't deny yourself
Lots of people think that healthy eating means never having dessert or
french fries or any of the things they love to eat. That's wrong.
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 go
"off the wagon" and 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.
A few more tips
- Try not to let your hunger drop to a 1 or 2 on
the hunger scale. When you get that hungry, you're likely to eat faster, make
poorer food choices, and keep eating past the "satisfied" point.
the other hand, let yourself feel some hunger between
meals. Mild hunger is a good thing. After all, it's a sign that you're not
overeating. Teach yourself to appreciate hunger pangs as a natural part of
life, as a sign that you're a healthy eater.
- Give cravings 10
minutes. When you suddenly feel the need to eat, tell yourself that you will
wait 10 minutes. If it was only a craving, you will have forgotten about it by
then, and the urge will be gone. If 10 minutes goes by and you still have the
urge to eat, you may be starting to get hungry.
- Don't eat more now
because you think you might not have time to eat later. Eat what your body
needs now, and worry about later, later.
- Some people find that it's
easier to schedule lots of small meals throughout the day. Other people do
better with "three square meals." Whichever you choose, try to eat on a regular
schedule every day, according to how hungry you usually get. Eating regular
meals can help you be more aware of hunger and fullness.
- Does leaving food on your plate drive you nuts? Take
smaller servings. Save leftovers for another meal. Share plates with someone.
Ask yourself what's more important—a few bites of "wasted" food, or your
- When you eat, make your food the main attraction. Sit down
at the table with your family. Don't eat in front of the TV. Don't read while
you eat. Give your attention to what you are putting in your mouth, how it
tastes, and how your body reacts to what and how much you're eating.
Test Your Knowledge
If you want to eat naturally and healthfully, let
yourself get a little hungry between meals.
If you want to eat healthy, you must give up all
high-fat, sugary foods, including desserts and french fries.
Continue to Where do you go from here?
Return to Healthy Eating: Recognizing Your Hunger Signals