The hunger fullness scale is the healthy eating tool you didn’t know you needed. Learn how it can transform your habits and your diet in this article.

woman eating hamburger in a restaurant

The key to better health might be in how you eat, not what. 

That’s what this dietitian thinks, anyway. Most of us know what to eat, right? More fruits, lots of veggies, and plenty of protein. But so many of us continue to struggle to eat these foods consistently, and to eat the right amounts to achieve our goals. 

That’s where the hunger and fullness scale comes into play. This simple tool can help you tune in to your body’s natural cues so you can eat the right foods in the right amounts… without obsessively counting or tracking. 

This small but mighty tool might be the most overlooked but integral part of your journey to better health. And it’s not just for intuitive eaters. Read on to learn what it is, why it’s so important, and how to use it to eat the way you’ve always wanted to. 

What is the hunger fullness scale?

The hunger fullness scale is a tool to understand our hunger and fullness signals better.

It’s meant to simplify the spectrum of physical sensations and feelings we experience related to hunger and fullness. It’s a 10-point scale, with 1 representing extreme hunger, and 10 representing painful fullness.

The tool is meant to help us better recognize the more subtle signals our bodies send us when we are hungry and full, and everything in between. 

It’s important because the better we can notice and respond to these cues, the better we can fuel ourselves. Using this tool can help us eat with less urgency, make more mindful food choices, and eat the appropriate amount for each of our unique bodies. 

Want a headstart on your health journey? Download this FREE 3-day dietitian meal plan.

How the hunger fullness scale supports health

Many of us have been taught to ignore and suppress hunger in the name of weight loss

But unfortunately, this has only pulled so many of us further away from a sustainable, healthy lifestyle. 

That’s because ignoring legitimate hunger often means entering meals feeling ravenous. And when we’re ravenous, we tend to eat quickly and accidentally eat more than we need.

It’s ironic, I know. But when we ignore hunger, we tend to overshoot fullness too. 

So if your goal is to find a better balance with food or even work toward sustainable weight loss, learning the hunger fullness scale can help. And if you want to do so without counting calories, it’s even more important.  

Common hunger cues

Here are some common signs you might be hungry, starting with the most subtle:

  • Thinking about food
  • Poor concentration 
  • Empty stomach
  • Low energy 
  • Growling stomach 
  • Shakiness
  • Irritability
  • Headache 
  • Weakness
  • Nausea

As you move down this list, the cues become harder to ignore because the hunger is more extreme. The goal is to better recognize the more subtle cues so you can eat sooner. 

Oh, and did you notice not all these cues are physical? Thinking about food is an early sign of hunger… but one that’s usually ignored!

Common fullness cues

Here are some common signs you’re getting full, starting with the most subtle:

  • Relief from hunger
  • Slower eating pace
  • Slight stomach stretch
  • Mental satisfaction
  • Deep breathing
  • Stomach pressure
  • Abdominal pain
  • Lethargy
  • Gas
  • Nausea

As you move down the list, the cues become more obvious and uncomfortable. The goal is to stop eating when you feel satisfied without pain or discomfort as much as possible.

When do you usually stop eating? Grab a notebook and do some reflecting!

Factors that impact hunger and fullness

There are many factors that interfere with our ability to notice and respond to these cues of hunger and fullness. Some examples include:

  • Stress and distraction. A stressful work and home life make it hard to notice hunger and to stop eating when you’re comfortably full. 
  • Exercise. Physical activity might increase appetite or blunt it, depending on you and the type of movement you’re doing. 
  • Meal timing. Going a long time between meals often means eating faster and not noticing when you’re starting to feel full. 
  • Meal composition. Balanced meals with protein and fiber do a better job at making you feel full than those based on simple carbohydrates and fat. 
  • Dieting. A history of extreme dieting and years of ignoring your body can make you feel disconnected from your natural cues. 

These 21 high protein vegetarian snacks can help stabilize your blood sugar so you can notice your hunger and fullness cues easier. 

intuitive eating hunger and fullness scale

How to use the hunger fullness scale

The goal with the hunger fullness scale is to keep yourself in the middle as much as possible. Eat when you’re comfortably hungry, and stop when you’re comfortably full.

Think of your hunger and fullness like a pendulum. The further you pull back the weight, the further it will swing on the other side. 

Your hunger and fullness works the same way. Wait until you’re super hungry, and you’re more than likely to eat too fast and end the meal feeling stuffed. 

Instead, start eating when you’re at a comfortable level 4. This might feel like an empty (but not aching) stomach, starting to think about food, and distraction from work. 

Stop eating at level 7, when you’re satisfied but not super full. This might feel like gentle pressure in your abdomen, slowed eating pace, and feeling mentally content. 

Important tips

Using the hunger fullness scale is amazing, but it’s not always easy to implement.

These 3 tips can help you utilize the tool to its full potential while avoiding some common pitfalls.

Start with hunger. Learning to stop eating when you’re full is infinitely easier if you start with the hunger side of things first. Start eating when you’re comfortably hungry instead of waiting until you’re weak and shaky. You’ll notice it becomes a lot easier to honour your fullness this way!

Learn your unique cues. The hunger and fullness scale doesn’t list many specific physical sensations because everyone’s cues look a little different. Take the time to learn what they feel like in your unique body, and make your own version of the hunger fullness scale that more accurately reflects you. 

Use it to troubleshoot. If you regularly eat way more than you want to, use the hunger fullness scale to investigate. Are you ignoring your hunger cues? Eating when you’re at a shaky level 2 instead of a mindful level 4? Use it as a learning tool to help you understand and transform your habits. 

Is the hunger fullness scale only for intuitive eaters?

Absolutely not! And actually, this is a common misconception. 

It’s true that the hunger fullness scale is often used in intuitive eating practice. It can be super helpful for people who want to stop dieting and learn to eat without tracking calories or points. 

But the hunger fullness scale is truly a tool for all. 

Everyone, with any health goal, can benefit from understanding their body’s cues and learning how to respond to them. Whether you’re working on your relationship with food, weight loss, blood sugar management, or heart health, the hunger fullness scale can help. 

No one wants to meticulously track their food or be on a meal plan forever. Using this tool is one of the keys for long-term maintenance.

Signs you should use the hunger fullness scale

Wondering if the hunger fullness scale is right for you? 

If you experience any of the following, this tool can likely help:

  • Ending meals overly full 
  • Always needing seconds
  • Overeating in the evenings
  • Fun foods trigger overeating
  • Constantly thinking about food
  • Eating much faster than others
  • Almost never feeling hungry or full
  • Regular emotional or boredom eating 
  • Frequently feeling guilty or shameful with food
chocolate chip ice cream being scooped from cake pan

Final thoughts

The hunger-fullness scale is a 10-point system to help you identify different levels of hunger and fullness more easily. 

It’s especially important for health because many people struggle to eat appropriate portions without the use of external tools like calorie tracking apps or points systems. 

The hunger and fullness scale can help you feel more mindful and in control with food. And whether your goal is intuitive eating, weight loss, or disease management, learning with this tool can help you eat healthier and stop eating more than you need. 

If you’ve ever struggled with feeling disconnected to your body or out of control with food, bookmark this article and start practising with the hunger fullness scale. It can truly change the way you think about food, and will probably transform the way you eat too.