Understanding your hunger cues

Provided by CSU’s Kendall Anderson Nutrition Center

Tap into your natural hunger signals to avoid overeating.

Food at a table

Your body has a natural system to gauge its energy needs, which signals you to eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full. This system is regulated by hormones. The hormones include ghrelin, the hunger hormone, and leptin, the fullness or satiety hormone. These hormones send the cues that allow your body to regulate how much food is eaten, in an attempt to maintain your body’s weight and energy balance.

Unfortunately, there are different ways that this system can be disrupted or overridden. When you are stressed, emotionally eating, or distracted, it is easy to become disconnected from the subtle cues of hunger and fullness, allowing overeating to occur.

Mindful eating is a useful tool in combating this pattern. It keeps you focused on the act of eating, allowing you to tune in to how hungry or full your body is. As you eat more slowly, your brain can catch up with your stomach before you overeat.

The hunger/fullness scale

Graphic of hunger levelsAnother great way to curb overeating is through the use of a hunger/fullness scale. The low end of the scale represents when you are so far past hungry you are ravenous. The other end represents when you are overly stuffed, such as after a second helping of Thanksgiving dinner.

Learn to respond to more gentle cues of hunger and fullness. Start to eat when you are around a three or a four, when you start to feel hungry and your stomach feels empty. Do not wait until you are starving, which can cause swings in blood sugar and lend itself to overeating. Stop eating when you reach about an eight, feeling satisfied and content. It takes time for your body to register when you are full. If you stop before you reach a ten, it can help you to avoid eating more food than you need.