Monthly Health Message:

Judging Your Hunger Using a "Hunger Scale"

November 2012

Karen Ensle Ed.D, RD, FADA, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

A good small step to improved health is watching what you eat. A helpful tool to gauge your hunger is the Hunger Scale. Here is a description of the numbers on the scale:

  1. Very Hungry. You have either ignored your hunger for a long time or have been unable to eat for some reason. You are beyond hungry and will likely overeat when food is available.
  2. Hungry. This is a good time to eat.
  3. Slightly Hungry. You can wait to eat but know that you will soon be hungry.
  4. Neutral. You are neither hungry nor full.
  5. Slightly Full. You sense food in your stomach and know that you will soon be full.
  6. Full. Your hunger is gone but you are not uncomfortable.
  7. Very Full. You are uncomfortable. Think of how you may feel after overeating a Thanksgiving dinner or a meal at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Many people have a set of "food rules" that prevent them from eating what they want. Examples of food rules include not eating bread or red meat, not eating after 6 p.m., or eating only a vegetable salad for lunch. What are your food rules? Are there foods that you avoid?

Allowing yourself the freedom to choose all foods empowers you and allows you to build trust in yourself. It also supports your ability to regulate your food intake based on your internal hunger cues. What would happen if you allowed yourself to mindfully eat all foods? Eating what you want requires mindfulness if you do not want to overeat. Mindful eaters don't label foods as good or bad and they tend to eat a wider variety of foods. This means your diet is more healthful while allowing you to control your calories and food intake.

Here is an interesting experiment to try. Buy a favorite food that you usually don't allow yourself to eat. For example, if you love brownies but most of the time do not allow yourself to eat them, you could buy a brownie. If you have health issues such as food allergies that require you to restrict your intake of some foods, alter this exercise so that you do not include food that causes your allergic reaction. Eat it mindfully.

Choose a time to eat this favorite food mindfully. Pay attention to the aroma and how it feels in your mouth. Ask yourself, how does it taste? When you eat the food mindfully, does it taste as good as you expected? You may find that it tastes wonderful or that you don't like it as much as you thought you would.

Practice eating more foods this way. Trust yourself to become great at listening to your body's hunger and fullness cues. Trust yourself that your body will tell you when it is hungry and full if you listen. You may eat more of the previously forbidden foods at first, but your intake will likely level off after a while. You will be taking "small steps" toward controlling your food intake in a positive way that supports improved physical, social and emotional health.


  1. Rutgers
  2. Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  3. School of Environmental and Biological Sciences