When we are born, our hunger and fullness cues are prominent. We cry when we are hungry and we push mom’s breast or the bottle away when we are full. However, as we start to get older, those cues tend to get lost. We either grow up as part of the “you can’t get up until you finish your plate” club or simply work, stress, and life happens and honoring true hunger and fullness become almost nonexistent.
Think about how often you walk out of your door, leave to work and you’ve had nothing but a cup of coffee. Then you get to work, you start your workday and you either continue to skip a morning meal or you end up grazing or snacking on whatever is available at the employee lounge (without finding much physical or emotional satisfaction). Then, you start your long list of tasks for the day and you are so focused on getting things done, that there is simply no time for a lunch break. You either eat at your workspace or you ignore your hunger cues until you realized it’s 2:00PM and you are famished and need to eat something quick and easy (and sometimes not remotely satisfying). The roller coaster of ignoring hunger cues or lack thereof and then eating without taking a break or finding satisfaction happens far too often in the workplace. Luckily, there is a tool to help reawaken your hunger and fullness cues, even when work and life become busy.
The Hunger Scale (also known as the Hunger Level Scale) was first seen in the book You Count, Calories Don’t</emtarget=”_blank”>, by Linda Omichinski, RD. The scale allows you to think about and gage your hunger and fullness with a visual tool. Here is a breakdown of the scale:
Level 1: Starvation and completely weak feeling. Symptoms of headache, dizziness, lack of concentration and coordination. Completely out of energy and need to lie down.
Level 2: Famished. Feelings of irritability, crankiness, and have very little energy. Nausea may also occur.
Level 3: Stomach is physically empty and there is a strong urge to eat. Concentration has begun to wane.
Level 4: Thinking about food and the body is signaling that nourishment is needed soon. A little bit of hunger has set in.
Level 5: Physically and psychologically starting to feel satisfied – neither hunger nor fullness are present. Someone who is a Mindful Eater will usually stop here – the body has enough fuel to keep going and you are physically and mentally satisfied. Hunger is gone.
Level 6: Past the point of satisfaction, but could still eat more. Psychological hunger starts to be fed.
Level 7: Passed the point of physical and psychological satisfaction and slightly uncomfortable – bloating may occur. A few extra bites may have been consumed during the meal, despite already being completely satisfied.
Level 8: Physical feeling of being overly full – pain and discomfort are present. Perhaps you should have stopped sooner but it tasted too good not to keep eating.
Level 9: Physically very uncomfortable feeling. Stomach is bloated and distended and you are tired.
Level 10: Thanksgiving full – Physically uncomfortable, unable to move, exhausted, and bloating and distention are present.
Whenever possible, I recommend you honor your hunger in the moments between thinking about food (level 4) and when your stomach is physically empty and ready for nourishment (level 3). Next, eat at a table, keep technology and distractions away, and eat until you are physically and emotionally satisfied (between levels 5 and 6).
Are we able to eat mindfully everyday and at every meal? Most likely not. However, the more we take advantage to flourish mindful eating, the more we will be able to bring back our natural-born hunger and fullness cues.