There is a hunger scale I like to use adapted from You Count, Calories Don’t by Ominchanski, L. (1992). Many of the weight management programs and group counseling sessions I do involve using this scale in one form or another. Have a look below:
For example when you are beginning to feel hungry or pretty hungry eating food will taste quite enjoyable but as you eat more and move closer to a 6 or a 7, you will find the food becomes less interesting and eventually you stop eating. As another example, if you are at the extreme end of the scale like a 1 or a 2 the food might taste really good but you might feel really anxious about eating and eat very quickly as if you might not get to eat again. This can cause you to eat too quickly and end up at the other end of the scale because you didn't give your body the chance to tell you it had enough.
Using a scale like this can help you become more in tune with what your body needs. As children we are very in tune with our eating needs. I'm sure we have all seen the child that one minute will eat you out of house and home and the next will only have a few bites before taking off to do something more interesting. That is because the child is very aware of their hunger and only eats as much as needed when they are hungry. It is a very normal and healthy way to eat. Sometimes our body needs more and sometimes it needs less. This usually depends on the last thing we ate, when we ate it and how active we have been recently.
As we get older we tend to ignore our hunger cues. Sometimes it is because of rules we were taught as we grew up like having to clean our plate. Other times it is because we have very busy or distracting lives that don't allow us to eat when needed. Sometimes we impose it on ourselves like following a new diet that limits what and when we are allowed to eat through the day, even if our body might be telling us something else. All of this can eventually lead to us being out of synch with ourselves.
The good new is that we can start to get back into tune with our bodies pretty easily. The first step is becoming more aware. When you start to feel hungry try rating it on the scale above. Ask yourself questions like "Am I really hungry? How hungry do I feel? What kind of sensations am I having right now?" Starting to recognize those early cues of hunger again like a rumble in your stomach or feeling a little light headed is key. Next, as you are eating or once you are finished eating assess again where you are on the scale. Did you eat only until you were no longer hungry? Did you eat until full or when you started to feel uncomfortable? There is no right or wrong answer to this. Generally we do want to try to stay between a 3 and 6 most of the time in order to slow ourselves down and make healthier choices but there will be times you go higher or lower on the scale.
For example, you might go lower on the scale after a big hike or playing hockey. You also might go higher on the scale after a holiday celebration where the food tasted really good. There is nothing wrong with either of these situations. What is important is getting in touch with ourselves again so we can eat at times that are appropriate for us and not built on just rules we have put in place. Using tools like the scale above can be the first step in becoming more comfortable with food rather than looking at it as an uphill battle.