Mindful Eating Part II: Hunger Cues

{by Rebecca Florio}

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We eat for a number of reasons – we are at a party with tables of foods, we come home to the smell of brownies in the oven, we need a late time snack to accompany moonlight study sessions, there is a sale on our favorite brand of chips.

And then, of course, we eat because we are hungry.

 Though we don’t often stop to make the distinction, true physical hunger is different than appetite or cravings – what we call “emotional hunger”. True hunger does not develop randomly, in response to sensory stimulation, like seeing or smelling or tasting. Instead, true hunger comes from what is happening inside our bodies when we have gone for some time without food. Stomach rumbles, difficulty concentrating, weakness, low energy, persistent thoughts of food are all physical cues to “refuel. When we eat in response to true hunger, our bodies are satisfied and we are re-energized.

 Learning to recognize the signs of hunger is an important component of mindful eating and honoring our health. A tool I’ve found to be helpful is the “Hunger Scale” which rates hunger from levels 1 to 10.



Level 4 is the ideal point to start eating. We don’t want to wait until we are starving because we will be so desperate for food that we might not able to make mindful decisions about what foods we are eating. Levels 1 and 2 are dangerous points of hunger to be at because they tend to lead us to bingeing on whatever we can get our hands on and going quickly from ravenous to stuffed before we know what happened.

 When you reach a level 5, the physical signs of hunger are fading because you are replenishing your body with food. This is when you want to slow down your eating so you can really concentrate on how full you feel. Level 6, feeling comfortable and satisfied, with no more signs of hunger, is the ideal point to stop eating. It takes about 20 minutes for a meal to send signals to your brain that you are full so avoid eating too quickly or with distractions (in front of the TV or computer, or while driving) to keep from mindlessly eating past fullness.

 Your stomach is about the size of your fist. If we overfill our tank, the excess nutrients from food are stored. Instead of contributing helpful energy, the excess makes us feel tired and actually takes away energy to build fat. When you are getting ready to eat, paying attention to your hunger levels. Eat when you are hungry. Take your time, savor your food. Stop eating when you are comfortably full. Repeat in a few hours.

The steps to good health are simple, really.

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