How to Use the Hunger and Fullness Scale

Hunger & Fullness Scale

The Hunger and Fullness Scale* is a useful tool for assessing your hunger and fullness levels before, during, and after you eat. It will help you identify your hunger cues, observe how different types and amounts of food affect you, and recognize when the urge to eat has been triggered by something other than hunger. This scale is not intended to set strict guidelines about when you should eat; rather, it helps you develop a greater awareness of your body’s subtle signals.

The Hunger and Fullness Scale ranges from 1 to 10. A level 1 represents ravenous—you’re so hungry you could eat this page. A level 10 means you’re so full that you’re in pain and feel sick. Remember, smaller numbers, smaller stomach; larger numbers, larger stomach.

In the middle of the scale is level 5: neutral, comfortable, or satisfied. At a 5, you cannot feel your stomach at all. It’s neither empty nor full; it isn’t growling or feeling stretched.

It helps to develop a good mental picture of what’s happening to your stomach at these different levels of hunger and fullness. Make a fist with your right hand; your empty stomach is about that size.

This is a level 1. One or two handfuls of food will take you from a level 1 to a 5.

Another way to picture your stomach is to think of a balloon. When it’s empty you’re at a 1. When you blow that first puff of air into the balloon, it fills out gently and takes its shape. That’s a 5.

As you take a deep breath and force more air into a balloon, its elastic walls begin to stretch and expand. These are levels 6 through 10. Your stomach is able to stretch to a 10 in order to hold excess food; therefore, the numbers over 5 indicate how stretched or uncomfortable your stomach feels.

If you blow too much air in, a balloon would continue to stretch and eventually pop. Fortunately, stomachs rarely rupture, but most of us have eaten so much at one time or another that we’ve said, “If I eat one more bite, I will explode!” When you feel this way, you’re at a 10.

Of course, changes in blood sugar levels, energy levels, moods, and substances in the bloodstream resulting from the digestive process also signal hunger and fullness. These other clues help tell you how hungry or full you are.

It may be challenging at first to label your hunger and fullness levels with numbers, but as you practice, it becomes second nature. You can learn to use this awareness to decide when, what, and how much to eat.

Hunger and Fullness Descriptions*
1 – Ravenous: Too hungry to care what you eat. This is a high-risk time for overeating.
2 – Starving: You feel you must eat NOW!
3 – Hungry: Eating would be pleasurable, but you can wait longer.
4 – Hunger pangs: You’re slightly hungry; you notice your first thoughts of food.
5 – Satisfied: You’re content and comfortable. You’re neither hungry nor full; you can’t feel your stomach at all.
6 – Full: You can feel the food in your stomach.
7 – Very full: Your stomach feels stretched, and you feel sleepy and sluggish.
8 – Uncomfortable: Your stomach is too full, and you wish you hadn’t eaten so much.
9 – Stuffed: Your clothes feel very tight, and you’re very uncomfortable.
10 – Sick: You feel sick and/or you’re in pain.

* From the book series: Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat.

Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yoyo dieter and the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle. Download chapter one at

Copyright Michelle May MD. Reprinted with permission.

What Are Your Triggers for Head Hunger?

When a craving doesn’t come from hunger, eating will never satisfy it!

Physical Triggers
How have these common physical triggers for overeating affected you? What strategies can you come up with to deal with each trigger more effectively?
* Thirst
* Fatigue
* Salivation
* Urge to chew, crunch, or suck
* Pain
* Hormonal cycles
* Medication side effects
* Medical conditions
* Other:__________________

Environmental Triggers
Common cues for overeating include people, places, activities, and events that you associate with eating. Be creative when coming up with strategies for dealing with these common triggers.
* Mealtimes
* Eating on a schedule
* High risk times
* Holidays
* Weather
* Preventive eating
* Sight or smell of food
* Seeing other people eat
* Trigger foods
* Advertising
* Social events
* Grocery shopping
* Preparing food
* Serving sizes
* Food associations
* Mindless eating
* Eating while driving
* Watching TV
* Dining out
* Eating at work
* Business entertaining
* Other:__________________

Emotional Triggers
Identify emotions that trigger a desire to eat (including specific examples). Brainstorm better ways to distract, calm, comfort, and nurture yourself without turning to food.
* Pleasure
* Reward
* Love
* Boredom
* Stress
* Feeling overwhelmed
* Loneliness
* Worry and tension
* Sadness
* Avoidance
* Guilt and shame
* Anger
* Negative self-talk
* Perfectionistic thinking
* Communicating with body size
* Spiritual needs
* Restriction and deprivation
* Diet mentality
* Negative body image
* Weighing yourself
* Eating disorder
* Other:__________________

Think before you eat!  Download this poster for your refrigerator:


Copyright Michelle May MD. Reprinted with permission.

Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yoyo dieter and the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat .

Hunger is the Best Seasoning

By Michelle May, M.D.

You were born knowing exactly how much to eat. Hunger is your body’s way of telling you that you need fuel. By reconnecting with your instinctive signals, you can manage your eating without restrictive dieting or obsessing over every bite of food you put in your mouth.

Perhaps you’ve ignored hunger for so long that you’ve forgotten how to recognize it. Maybe you even blame hunger for your issues with food and see it as the enemy. Perhaps you confuse hunger with all the other reasons you feel like eating, like mealtime, boredom, stress, or tasty food. Brown Paper Bag

At the same time, you may have learned to ignore the feeling of satisfaction so you eat until you’re stuffed and very uncomfortable. Perhaps you “clean your plate,” “never waste food,” and “eat all your dinner if you want dessert,” instead of stopping when you’ve had enough. And you’ll perpetuate this cycle if you teach your children the same things.

Hunger is Your Natural Guide
Reconnecting with your hunger signals helps you manage your eating effortlessly. Here’s how:
· You’ll eat less food when you’re eating to satisfy physical hunger than if you eat to satisfy other needs. Think about it. If you aren’t hungry when you start eating, how do you know when to stop? When the food is gone of course!
· You’re more likely to choose foods that nourish you. If you aren’t hungry but you’re eating because you are sad, mad or glad, what kinds of foods do you want? That’s when you’re more likely to want chocolate, cookies, chips, or other snacks and comfort foods.
· Food actually tastes better when you’re physically hungry. Hunger really is the best seasoning—so you eat less but enjoy it more.
· You’ll feel more satisfied because food is great for reducing hunger but not so great for reducing boredom, stress or other triggers.
· You’ll notice you’re hungry before you get too hungry; that decreases overeating!

Trust Your Gut Instincts
To break out of the pattern of eating on autopilot, get in the habit of asking yourself, “Am I hungry?” every time you feel like eating. This simple but powerful question will help you recognize the difference between an urge to eat caused by the physical need for food from an urge to eat caused by head hunger.

Look for symptoms like hunger pangs, gnawing, growling, emptiness, low energy, shakiness, or headache. Notice that hunger is physical. It’s not a craving, a thought or a temptation. By focusing on hunger as your guide, you can become your own internal expert about when, what and how much to eat.

Food for Thought
· What specific signs of hunger do you usually have?
· What other thoughts and feelings do you confuse with hunger at times?
· What else could you do besides eat when you feel like eating even though you’re not hungry?

Copyright Michelle May MD. Reprinted with permission.

Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yoyo dieter and the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat .