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Calorie Count Blog

The Hunger - Fullness Scale

By Mary_RD on Apr 09, 2009 12:00 PM in Dieting & You
Edited By +Rachel Berman

Close your eyes, place your hand on your stomach, and take a few deep breaths.  Pay attention and listen to the signals your body is giving you. 

Take the time to find out what hunger and fullness feels like. 
It’s work, but the pay-off is great.
What is physical hunger?

It varies from feeling famished to only mild distress.  Sensations may include stomach flutter or growling, lightheadedness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, shaky hands, weak knees, and headache.  Everyone is a little different, and it’s a matter of degree.   Differentiate between hunger, thirst and tiredness because they can all feel the same.

What is fullness?

The elusive feeling of fullness ranges from the mere absence of hunger to actual suffering produced by stuffing it in.  But you have to eat slowly and mindfully to hear it.  You won't hear it when you eat in front of the TV and inhale at record speed.

The Hunger – Fullness Scale

Hunger and fullness exist on a continuum.  The scale ranges from “0” ravenous, to “10” uncomfortably overstuffed, almost sick.  A “5” is neutral, neither hungry nor full. 

Before, during and after you eat, or whenever you get the idea, use the scale  to rate your physical hunger and fullness.  Take the time to get to know the scale, and use it the navigate your eating behavior.

How to do it

  • Whenever you want to eat, close your eyes, listen to your body, and rate your hunger from 0 to 10.
  • Eating at a hunger level of 2 or 3 is appropriate.  That’s between moderate and significant hunger, not yet famished.  You’re likely to overeat when you’re ravenous, at 0 to 1.
  • Slow down while eating and take a half-time break to give your body time to realize that you’ve eaten.
  • Try stopping at a fullness level of 7 or 8 out of 10.  That’s moderately to comfortably full, and it should keep you satisfied for several hours.

You might prefer to maintain a range of 4 to 6 by eating mini-meals to crowd out your diet and modulate strong feelings.  No one way is wrong or right.  Manipulate your hunger to suit your needs.  

Words to Ponder 

The feeling of fullness is defined by our culture and learned in early childhood.   Michael Pollan pens lessons I’ve learned from clients over the years. 

Pollan writes,

"...Many cultures have grappled with the problem of food abundance and come up with different ways of suggesting you should stop eating before you’re completely full. The Japanese say “hara hachi bu” (“eat until you are four-fifths full”). And the Prophet Muhammad recommended that a full belly should contain one-third food, one-third drink and one-third air..."

A client once told me that her British granny said to stop eating when “room is left for one pancake.”

Your thoughts…

Do you trust yourself to stop eating when you are comfortably full?

Read more about working with your levels of hunger and fullness:


I find the best way for me to stop eating is to literally not put as much food on my plate.  I have always had a problem, almost a sort of guilt, about leaving food on my plate. and if it is there I AM going to eat it.  I have changed how much food I take to begin with and that gives me a little time to realize I don't need to go back for seconds.

Yea I agree with rswisher611. I eat less if I don't put as much food on the plate. I find it hard to control my cravings with a kitchen full of junk though, because my family eat all that stuff. Thats always what lets me down.

I always drink while I eat. I find this makes me savour each bite more and it stops me over eating. It helps to slow me down too. Enjoying the flavour is half the reason we eat, so if I really like a cirtain meal, to stop myself pilling it in and eating way more than I should, I just eat it nice and slow and sip on some water. I always serve a portion size about the size of one palm so that I know that is my limit. I try to never eat more than that because, for me, thats usually all I can manage!! Portion control is half of the battle, don't let others serve you food if you can because not everyone can consume the same amount.

Fullness & emotional eating are 2 different things. I can tell when I'm not hungry I just haven't been able to figure out how not to comfort myself with food when life get me down ... any advice?


I split my portions in half (one for dinner and leftovers for lunch). Of course if I'm at a 3 or 4 I'll eat more, but almost always I stop to take a break while eating.


And like the few posts above, putting less on your plate is helpful.  You may think you haven't eatin much if your plate still has a lot left on it.

Elizabethkap: I too am an emotional eater.  You have to sit down with yourself and ask, "What do I like to do that's NOT eating".  Do you like photography, nature, organizing, cleaning, reading, window shopping, etc?  Is there something you would like to do but have never done?  Books you have never read, movies never watched, classes never taken?  Find a passion a delve into it, so whenever you want to eat b/c of an emotion go do your passion instead.  I've always wanted to be more of an "outdoors-y" person.  So when I'm hungry or I've had a stressful day I go for a walk around my block (takes about 10 min) then come home and reasses.  If I'm still hungry I eat but 9 times out of 10 I realize I'm not hungry and my stress level has decreased.

Hope that helps.

When I was growing up on a small farm in southwest Georgia, we had a song we sang at the 4 - H Club: Chew, chew your food gayly through the meal, the more you chew, the less you eat, the better you will feel.

Say Grace at mealtime and thank God for His Blessings. Chew well, eat slowly, drink plenty of liquid. Don't overload your plate or go back for seconds. It is better to eat four small meals per day than three large ones.

Remember to exercise every day, but above all, remember to thank God for all your blessings and remember those less fortunate.

Happy eating!

Mary Bruton (age 88)





That's a great one, Mary! Wish I knew the tune. lol.

I don't usually have much trouble resisting true hunger. I have stalling tactics that work pretty well if I've eaten enough but it hasn't registered yet (making a cup of tea or brewing decaf.) It's emotional hunger that is hard to resist and is completely deadly IF combined with the real thing. Talking with my hubby about what is bugging me is actually the best fix for that. (poor man! lol!)

Original Post by: marybbruton

When I was growing up on a small farm in southwest Georgia, we had a song we sang at the 4 - H Club: Chew, chew your food gayly through the meal, the more you chew, the less you eat, the better you will feel.

Say Grace at mealtime and thank God for His Blessings. Chew well, eat slowly, drink plenty of liquid. Don't overload your plate or go back for seconds. It is better to eat four small meals per day than three large ones.

Remember to exercise every day, but above all, remember to thank God for all your blessings and remember those less fortunate.

Happy eating!

Mary Bruton (age 88)





Row-Row-Row Your Boat!  Love it!  That instructive song about how to eat is part of our cultural heritage! I'm going to add it to my "Words to Ponder".   Okay - So why is that we knew how to eat in 1920 but we don't know now?  (Answer: Modern ideas have been shaped by the American Food Industry and they are want us to eat more.)

Original Post by: elizabethkap

Fullness & emotional eating are 2 different things. I can tell when I'm not hungry I just haven't been able to figure out how not to comfort myself with food when life get me down ... any advice?


well , i have teh same problem (but i hope i am getting over it!) adn i am trying (must admit not that hard) to solve it. i started counting my portions (number of bread kind portions, veggies, fruits, milk and dairy, meat/nuts/eggs/peanutbutter.. and minimize my sweets and butter :)) well, when i want to eat something, i remeber that i didn't have that much veggies, so i take some carrots(without dressing), sometimes an apple... and it helps, in some time you'll learn to eat less and you'll beat your emotional eating! good luck!

It really is true on the you were raised; depending on your culture.  I'm from a Mexican heritage and I was always told to eat everything that was on my plate.  So no matter how much or how little, everything on my plate was not to be wasted.

hum.. yes I too grew up having to clean my plate and was not allowed to serve my self, even to this day my  mother will insist on serving everyone at the table (I am 33)! I love my mother dearly but some things I decided to change for my kids, yes I sugest they may dish them selfs up but to keep in mind that times are hard right now and that they only take what they know they can finish with out feeling stuffed. They may always have seconds if there is any. My son is VERY active and not an ounce of fat on him at age 12 but I try to instill good healthy eating even if some one may think there is no need. I say no maybe not now but someday he will thank me for the good choices he has made because of his upbrining (I hope). 

Lately I have found that when life gets me down rather than eat I go to the gym.  On the drive there I have the good and evil battle because i just want to sit on the couch and be lazy, but at the same time I tell myself that I will just do a small 15 mins on the bike or elliptical.  Once I start the 15 mins and the endorphins start flowing I immediately feel better and I always end up staying at the gym an hour or more. It also helps to take what I call mood music.  Music that gets you excited and happy and ready to kick some butt! Not only are you burning calories instead of eating youre more likely to come home and eat something good for you because you wont want to ruin the hard work!

Hum, thanks for the reminder.  Food of any kind is something that can be my friend and also my enemy if I don't take care of myself.  Throughout my life I have found that sometimes the simplest and most basic plans work the best. 

Thats great :)

But my problem is usually that I just looooooove the taste of the food that I dont want to stop! Even if I eat slowley I still want more!

But I have been abke to get some self control and push the food away when I have eaten enough. Usually.....

We are emotional about food. We even use the word LOVE to describe what we enjoy eating. But emotions are HEART issues and food doesn't make our hearts feel better. Our owners manual even tells us that "... for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited." Hebrews 13:9 The Holy Bible. It is excellent to redirect our focus from the food to a walk, or a soak in the tub, or anything else that will make us stop our old patterns of behavior. Most of us do need to change our relationship with food, after all it has never delivered the promised results of relief. Rather is has left us weighing more and feeling guilty. So persue grace, give it to others, but most of all recieve it for yourself. GRACE YOURSELF :) Do the things that will help your heart heal instead of covering them up with a blanket of food. the results are priceless!

I used to have an issue with leaving food on my plate especially while out at a restaurant.  I've learned that it's OK to throw food away.  It is still hard sometimes, but I'm the kind of person that does everything I put my mind to so I just understand that I'm full and put a napkin over my plate. 

The problem I have is that I go to school. There we have three stores just across the road that sell everything from candybags to chips to Coke to cookies, and it's incredible how difficult it is to resist going there and buying a mega-sized packet of something fatty and unhealthy. However, I've noticed that once I've finished lunch and i'm feeling moderately full, it's SO much easier to resist the temptation of running across the road. Whereas I used to have the tendency to nip down there some recess before lunch (which was at 11 o'clock). And that always made me feel guilty, so I'm really, really going to try and cut down on that.

I am 23 yrs old and 5"3, from a background of overweight people and bad eating habits. I am usually 125-135 lbs and 5"3 so I'm not failing miserable at maintaining an average weight. As well as a lot of you, I was raised in a strict household where you were taught to eat everything on your plate - I understand, we didn't have much to spare. I have had to realize where my own weaknesses come from, and as I realize them, I baby step toward changes for the betterment of ME.

Things that I know have helped me.

-Notice your habits! Living with a Girl friend while going to college Full time. We ate the same meals everyday, and we would do the same walk every night for 15-20 minutes because we wanted to maintain our weight, and shed a few extra pounds. We decided to eat smaller portioned meals. Nothing too strict. We had a route for 15-20 minutes of brisk walking, and a route we'd walk for 30-45 minutes depending on the time we had. I lost a significant amount more weight than my friend. She was very discouraged by this, but we continued everyday going to school full time, coming home, eating dinner and going for our walk before calling it an evening and studying or watching a movie. We both eventually lost a good chunk of weight, but her - less. These were things that I noticed..

- How to overcome overeating while cooking    --------- Chew gum from when you begin cooking, until you're ready to eat. You won't want to taste everything in sight because you're tricking your body into thinking it's consuming something. With my friend and I, she had a small daughter, and she would pick at her child's food try it for temperature, sit down and then eat her own, adding a few hundred calories extra, sometimes daily, between tasting food, and finishing off the small amount that her child would leave.. But once we started chewing GUM it worked wonders!

- Walk for 15 minutes a day. Don't just think 'good idea!', and 'I will.' Think about 15 minutes out of your life. That is NOTHING at all out of one's day. Make it a brisk pace, and somewhere familiar and well lit - like your block... Then, as you come home from your set walk, Make yourself  write it down the date and the amount of time you were out. Chances are, if you stick to this for a week, your body will crave going outside, we are creatures of habit. You will be angry at yourself if you miss a day in your book.. and soon 15 minutes will be Easy. Chances are, once you're out for 15 minutes, you'll end up walking at least that. Make yourself Aim for 30 minutes a day of walking on your second week and once you're ready, find alternate routes, step up to jogging and walking, and push yourself just a little bit, and then a little bit more. When you have some extra time look up hiking trails nearby, or a route with hills. Join a walking group online in your city! Switch it up, bring a buddy or a walk a dog. The sooner you get out there, the sooner the weight will melt off! Push yourself but don't hurt yourself!

- Stand! Try to figure out how much sitting you do a day, and if you end your day sitting on the couch, tv on, try to dust or tidy up. Rearrange things. Keep your legs moving! You'll not only sleep better at night, your body will get used to being more active, you'll want to sit around less. You'll feel guilty when you do and you'll pick up extra activities or walk longer.

- Pre plan your meals.
Just do it. Make lunches for work/school. If you do this on a full belly, you will pick things that are healthy, you won't have a choice to break your meal plan, and you can't argue with your good judgement from the day before. This will also get you excited about food again. You will look for different types of food, different combinations. Love your food! It's one of the very best parts of living!

Eat Breakfast!  - or don't. Shakes are UNBELIEVABLY GOOD! Just take a couple spoonfuls of fruit yogurt in the morning, a splash of juice, and a full banana. Add berries, Fill your blender with hot water to soak. takes 5 minutes. 

If you find you can't stop eating... You are either perminantly hungry because your stomach is stretched out of shape, or it's habitual. Water drinking with light foods like fruit will help you feel full (sugars make you feel satisfied) while letting your stomach have a break. Or you can try Putting a time limit/ or a goal on your food. Lets say you have just eaten 20 minutes ago, and are searching the cupboards. Put whatever you want to eat on the counter... and make yourself walk that 30 minutes first.  See if you want it when you come back. If you do - it's fine, you just worked it off.

Baby steps work, but you have to be honest with yourself in every way to get real change. Eating for your health and wellness is a lifestyle... - not a temporary plan - that everyone on this site is looking for. Goodluck and Happy thoughts! You'll get there - if you just go out and do it.

ps: My father recently lost 70 lbs over a yr period using only an eliptical machine for 40 min a day and portioning his food with healthier choices!

Try thinking of things to do other than eating that will comfort you, like having a nice bath, listening to your favourite music, phone a friend, whatever makes you feel better so that you don't only associate food with comfort, but other things too

to gage my food intake, (as i, too, was raised to clean my plate), i know consciously chew. i try to pace myself. i shoot for 20 at the minimum for one bite. if i find myself eating too quickly, i start counting. i need the pace. then, i only eat one serving. one serving is sufficient. i'm not starving. one plate is good. and i keep reminding myself of this. i find it helpful to leave the scene of the meal asap. i don't need to sit at the table while everyone else has seconds and thirds. just staying conscious of what i am eating and how i'm eating it has helped tremendously!

I read somewhere that we should all eat like 2 year olds because they have not yet been conditioned to finish all the food on their plates or drown their sorrows in a bucket of Hagen Daaz iced cream.

When a 2 year old is full, they simply stop eating. They feel no need to continue stuffing their gobs when they are perfectly satisfied as is.

Since we are not 2 years old anymore, I suppose its best to just be conscious as we are eating. To sit down, with no distractions (TV, radio,etc), chew our food properly, eat slowly and savour every bite and thank God for every meal. This way we are at least human about food instead of ravenous beasts gobbling up everything in sight.

I dont recommend the article's "mini meals" because it keeps you eating and most of the time we wind up reaching for things that are not healthy. I do like preparing all my meals as much as humanly possible and preparing appropriate light snacks to eat inbetween meals is much better.

I also like filling my plate with all sorts of good vegetables and fruit before i put anythign that is fatty on the plate.

Since I've been brought up in an old fashioned italian family that influences everyone to just "eat eat eat eat and then have a little bit more" ive been breaking myself out of this habit.

Btw ive been on so many diets. my latest one is weight watchers. Anyone have any suggestions, recommendations or anything?

Calorie count I believe is helping me a lot more than weight watchers does. I myself am another happier person that finds this site extremely useful and glad its free. Im having trouble affording their weekly dues(it's $13 here in arizona!) which adds up to about $54 or more a month.

In addition to that they recommend buying all these books and stuff its insane.




It's hard to watch what you eat with a kithcen full of junk. Is your family open to eating healthier?  Are you the shopper?  If you are the buyer, you may have more control than you realized over what goes in the kitchen cabinets.  I am weak when there's junk in the cabinets, but I shop and can only blame myself when there's junk in there.  Also, ultimately it's me putting the food in my mouth, so I can't blame the cabinets.

I was able to get a surge of motivation from the movie "Super Size Me".  I recommend it to anyone trying to watch how much they eat.  

I am quite active, but food is my weakness.  For others like me, the calorie count helped me loose 10 pounds in 2 monts last year-within 2 months of stopping counting calories I gained it back.  Last time I didn't post or read posts, this time I'm hoping I'll still with it if I utilize the community board. I've already read some great advice from others (chewing gum while cooking).


I like the hunger scale idea. I have to give myself tools like this that make me stop and think before grabbing a snack. My favorite mantra: "If hunger isn't the problem, food isn't the solution." I put this in a visible place in the kitchen, and it made me stop and think before snacking.

Also, read somewhere to put the fork down between every bite. Chew everything at least 15-20 times. This also forces mindfulness and gives your body time to catch up to what you've already eaten.

I know these things, but still have to be vigilent all the time. For some of us, this is truly a life-long struggle. I'll add the hunger scale to my toolkit.

Keeping trying, everyone! Don't give up and don't criticize yourself if you slip up. It's part of the deal, it will happen. We have to keep trying.

Thank you! This article was just the reminder I needed this morning!  I am especially prone to ignore my real hunger if I am stressed or rundown.


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I have these really good 4/5ths full days and I feel grrreat!!


But sometimes it's 100%+ full after every meal. That's mostly when I'm stressed out and doing lots of uni work.


So I control myself better when I'm relaxed, which makes me more cautious about how much I eat.

I think at first it's terribly hard to stop eating when you're still not a 100% full. But once you've done it once, you understand how great it feels, that you're satisfied but light at the same time. It's a habit everyone has to learn. Myself included. 

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