Hunger in Diets

I sometimes like using the term over-hunger to describe the sensation of hunger (from ghrelin) that you feel from eating mostly calorically-dense foods.  Over-hunger is your body thinking it needs more energy, or food, even though it already has enough or got enough in a meal or for the day.  

Over-hunger is mostly experienced when eating calorically-dense foods that are typically ultra-processed, meaning they have been significantly changed from their original state, with salt, sugar, fat, additives, preservatives and sometimes with artificial colors added. 

Your body isn’t physically satiated from those foods, but it will still use and store the large number of calories it got from those foods. And since you’ll get physically hungry later, you’re more likely to eat again.  And the important thing to remember about ultra-processed foods that I mentioned in this article is their rapid and potent effect on the dopamine in your brain.  

The more of these foods you eat, the more easily your dopamine is elevated, so the more your brain thinks they are necessary for your survival.  But calorically-dense, ultra-processed foods are typically nutrient-deficient, so they are not necessary for our survival—they just pretend to be by raising the dopamine in our brain.  We only THINK they’re important, but our body is physically telling us these foods are not useful because it’s hungry again and it wants the nutrients it needs to survive and function well.  


The Hunger & Fullness Scale

What I want to leave you with today is an exercise that you can start using today and for the rest of the week—and frankly, for the rest of your life.  The aim is for you to get to know your legitimate physical hunger AND fullness levels.  This is similar to the Hunger-and-Fullness scale I work on with my clients in the Undoing Urges Weight Loss Program because it’s one of the most valuable pieces of knowledge that will last you forever and that will help you unravel the intensity of your urges by a significant amount.

So, let’s start with the Hunger side of the scale.  It’s important to know what physical hunger feels like because it’s much different from a craving or an urge to eat.  

Even though I’ve used different forms of scales over the years, this scale is one that I found easy to understand that I got from two of my coaches, Brooke Castillo and Martha Ayim.  The Hunger Scale is only about how your body is feeling as far as physical hunger is concerned:

Imagine a a scale that ranges from 0 to -10. 

0 is a neutral feeling and you’re neither hungry nor full, you’re completely content and not thinking about food.  

The extreme end of the scale is -10, where you’re so hungry you’re about to pass out.  Most of us don’t ever get to that level.  

Around -4 is where you start to feel the ghrelin in your stomach growling.  But it may be slightly different for you.  

Use this Hunger Scale over the next several days to gauge where you’re at physically in terms of true, physical hunger.  You may notice how quickly hunger goes away when you either drink water or something warm like tea or even when you start eating a few bites and then feel satiated.  This may be the most fun and interesting information you get about your own body—and feeling more connected with your body is an incredible feeling.

Now let’s move on to the Fullness side of the scale.  It’s also extremely important to know what physical fullness, or satiety, feels like because once you hit that spot where you’re full, but you want to keep eating, then you’ll know you’re just experiencing an urge.  And if you find yourself there, then you can remember the questions in this article and figure out why you want to listen to the urge, but I’ve included them below. This is the best way to start unraveling an urge because you’ll know that you’re already full, that you took care of your body’s physical needs.

The Fullness Scale is measured the same as the Hunger Scale where 0 is neutral but it goes up to +10, which is extreme fullness, like you’re so overwhelmingly full it’s painful and you can’t move. This scale will let you know what satiety feels like to you and where you’re most comfortable with how much you eat.  You don’t have to eat to a +4 or a +5 if you feel light and great at +2 or +3.  When you notice that you’re physically satiated, take a look at your plate and how much you ate and what you ate, and ask yourself how you’re feeling.  

  1. Where on your body do you feel an urge? 
  2. What does it feel like when you say no to an urge?  When you say no to an urge, when you feel that desire for food but don’t eat the food, how do you feel?
  3. When you have the urge to eat food that you didn’t plan to eat, what thoughts do you notice you are having?

The Hunger-and-Fullness Scale is one of my favorite tools when coaching my clients because it alleviates them from the mental math and drama around food.  They learn to trust their body and their body’s physical desires and, therefore, they trust themselves even further because they’ll want to take care of their body and listen to it rather than force it to do something.  

I hope the Hunger & Fullness Scale begins working for you as it’s worked for me and for so many of my clients with feeling more safe and calmer around food. If you haven’t already, make sure you’ve joined us in the Undoing Urges free Facebook group where we discuss your hunger and fullness, and so much more.

I would love to hear how this goes for you.  Take care and bye for now!