The most helpful health-eating tool is not about what or what not to eat – it’s about tapping into how hungry or full you feel.
Learning (or relearning) how to listen and respond to your body’s hunger and satiety cues is an invaluable key to nourishing yourself well and avoiding overeating.
Healthy babies are born with fine-tuned hunger-satiety mechanisms. Whether they accept food and how much they eat are internally motivated – they feed when they are hungry and stop when they are satisfied.
By the time we are adults, we are well-practiced in ignoring our internal cues of hunger and fullness. We eat because we are compelled to finish what is heaped on front of us, because we “deserve” that doughnut after a long day’s work, because plowing through a bucket of popcorn is just what you do at the movies or because a TV ad sparks a chocolate craving.
On the flip side, we also learn to ignore our genuine physical hunger as we accrue years of practice with restrictive diets that tell us our appetite is a beast we have to fight.
Here’s a tool to help: the Hunger Continuum. All it requires is that you stop, check in with yourself, and assign a number to how hungry or satisfied you are on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is “famished”, 10 is “painfully stuffed”, and 5 is neutral point of balance. The goal is to stay toward the middle of the scale, between 3 (where you have strong but not overwhelming feeling of hunger) and 7 (where you are full, but not very full).
To do this, you need to listen to your body, eat when you feel genuine physical hunger (not bored hunger, lonely hunger or stressed-out hunger) and stop eating when you are satisfied but not stuffed.
What number would you say you’re at right now? If you can’t quite tell, don’t worry. It might take some practice, given the many years spent hushing that internal voice. But even if you are not exactly sure where you are on the scale at a given time, merely stopping to check in can help.
It’s best to eat when you reach a 3 – letting your appetite build a little past those first stirrings of hunger but satisfying if before you become ravenous. It’s not always possible to hit that mark because sometimes you don’t have control over when you are able to eat, but you can set up your routine to make it easier to achieve.
The other side of the spectrum, perhaps more critical for most of us, is knowing when to stop eating. How often do you push back from a dinner table overly stuffed or realize you are beyond full when your spoon scrapes the bottom of a pint of ice cream? You can avoid that kind of overeating, ultimately improving your digestion and keeping your weight in check, by using the continuum.
To use it effectively, make sure you eat slowly, savoring every bite, to give your stomach a chance to tell your brain it has had enough. As you eat, pause to check in periodically to recognize how your satiety is building, and stop eating when you reach a seven on the continuum – comfortably full by not very full.
By stopping here, you harness the most personalized and self-nurturing method of portion control, one that responds to your physical needs. Unlike scales and measuring cups, it’s a tool that is with you wherever you go.
The Hunger Continuum
1 – famished
2 – uncomfortably hungry
3 – strong feeling of hunger
4 – first signs of hunger
5 – neutral (neither hungry nor full)
6 – nearly full
7 – comfortably full
8 – very full
9 – stuffed
10 – painfully stuffed
Source: Ellie Krieger, Washington Post. www.rally.com