Have you ever heard of the hunger-fullness scale?
If not, it’s a linear measure with tic marks ranging from 0 to 10 where 0 is famished and 10 is stuffed silly. Nutrition professionals encourage folks to start eating at a 3 or 4 of hunger level and stop eating around a 7 or 8. “It’s important to not get too full,” they say, “because it means you overate.” They also warn against getting too hungry because it leads us to overeat out of compensation.
In theory, this is a helpful tool. In practice, it doesn’t work how it’s designed.
For me and many of my clients, the hunger-fullness scale creates unnecessary preoccupation with hunger and fullness and causes us to question our eating to the point where we felt like we were doing something wrong if we didn’t eat at the “right time.”
For a long time in my journey of healing with food, I felt guilty if I was ever full and satisfied. Not feeling hungry made me afraid that I still wouldn’t be hungry by the time the next meal rolled around, and I’d be in a catch 22 — I’d feel left out if I didn’t participate, and guilty if I ate when I wasn’t hungry.
What I’ve come to appreciate since then is that feeling full after a meal is actually a good thing. See, when I’m hungry or not fully satisfied after a meal, I keep thinking about food. Or, I start thinking about food again soon afterwards. The last hour or two before the next meal becomes a waiting game until I can eat again instead of focused time dedicated to the tasks before me. What’s more is that even if I don’t become very hungry again by my next meal — a 2 or 3 or 4 or whatever the ‘recommneded’ level is — it’s still okay to eat enough to satisfy my hunger, whatever level it may be.
See, if I’m not very hungry at a meal, I can still eat enough to satisfy me. If I am very hungry, it’s still okay to eat enough to satisfy me. The point of food is to satisfy hunger, and the point of satisfying hunger is so that we can get up and get on with life.
When I eat a satisfying meal in the morning, I don’t think about food very much throughout the morning. Instead, I’m busily at work on the day’s tasks. At first, this would make me uncomfortable. when I felt the sensation of hunger, I felt in control — I knew I hadn’t “eaten too much” already in the day, and knew that it would be reasonable to eat my full portion when the mealtime rolled around. If I wasn’t hungry, I’d find myself struggling with the idea of limiting myself to a partial portion, fearing that I would still want to eat the whole thing but feel too full afterwards. In effect, I was afraid that if I wasn’t hungry, I’d end up eating past the point of fullness.
But I found the opposite to be true. If I don’t eat in the morning, yes– I’m much hungrier at lunch. But if I do eat in the morning and build trust with my body that it will be fed when it tells me it’s hungry, my desire to eat past fullness is eliminated. If I’m only a little hungry at lunch, I eat enough to satisfy my body. If I’m very hungry at lunch, I still eat enough to satisfy my body.
When I let my body make the decisions about what, when, and how much to eat, everything stays in balance. I don’t feel compelled to overeat, I don’t feel guilty for enjoying my food, and I don’t feel afraid of my fullness because I know that it is good.
Do you find it easy or challenging to trust your hunger and fullness cues?