By Erin Caraher, RDN, CDN

We are born with the natural ability to eat when we are hungry and stop when we are full. As we get older, we are influenced by external rules and forget about our own internal cues. Hunger can be felt in such a variety of ways and can differ from person to person.

Here are some ways in which you may sense hunger:

  • Mood: cranky, uninterested, irritable
  • Head: trouble concentrating, dizzy, unable to focus, feel lightheaded
  • Energy: tired, sluggish
  • Stomach: growling stomach, empty feeling, hunger pang

When we wait too long to eat, we may get to the point of being ravenously hungry, and when that happens, we tend to overconsume, eat very quickly, and pay no attention to what we are eating and if we’re even enjoying the food. Aim to begin your meal feeling hungry, meaning you are ready to eat, and your stomach has a slight empty feeling. You want to leave a meal feeling comfortably full, meaning you feel content and satisfied. Use the hunger-fullness scale as a tool to practice getting in tune with your hunger cues.

  1. Painfully hungry: dizzy, nauseous, feeling ill
  2. Extremely hungry: ravenous, headache, moody, anxious to eat
  3. Very hungry: stomach growling, low energy, some urgency
  4. Hungry: Ready to eat, stomach has slight empty feeling, not much urgency
  5. Neutral: neither hungry nor full
  6. Mild fullness: sensations of fullness, can still eat
  7. Comfortably full: feeling content and satisfied
  8. A little too full: slightly uncomfortable
  9. Very full: uncomfortable, feel stuffed, maybe some belly distension
  10. Painfully full: physically ill, may be sick or nauseous

Use this scale as a guide to see where you are before, during and after your meal. Just remember everyone is different so the numbers described may not fit perfectly to how you are feeling as an individual. It is generally recommended to begin eating when you are between a three and four and to stop eating when you are around a seven before you become uncomfortable.

Try using the hunger-fullness scale and listening to your body with your next meal.


Erin Caraher, RDN, CDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist who works with Bariatric and Medical Weight Management patients to help them achieve their health and weight loss goals.