By Melissa Buscetta, RDN, CDN

If you’ve ever been on a diet, chances are you’ve ignored hunger signals, telling yourself “Nope, that’s not part of my diet!” Or, there have been times you felt full, but kept eating, thinking “Well, I already screwed up, so I might as well keep going.” Over time, these mixed messages can dull hunger and fullness cues.

There are three strategies to help you tune in to hunger and fullness cues. 

The Hunger Scale – Envision a scale from 1 to 10; 1 meaning you’re barely hungry and 10, ravenous. Start preparing your food when you’re at about a 2, allowing yourself enough time to cook or pick up a meal before your hunger impacts your mood and stress level. How do you know when you’re full? Do you feel satisfied, energized, or clear headed? Once again, your definition of fullness is completely unique to you. Envision the same scale, but this time at 1, you’re still hungry and at 10, you’re so stuffed you feel sick. Strive to stop eating when you’re at a 7, when your stomach is 3/4 full and still has room to digest your food.

Physical vs. Emotional – Although hunger feels different for different people, there are common characteristics of these two types of hunger. When you think you feel hungry, run through these characteristics and see if you can identify which one it is. Physical hunger can usually be felt in the pit of your stomach. Low energy or a headache can be signs of hunger slowly increasing. Emotional hunger generally comes on rapidly, often immediately after a specific emotion. This hunger is usually for specific foods like sweets.

Emotional eating checklist– The feeling of hunger is often triggered by a situation rather than true hunger. Run through a checklist of possible triggers. Here are some common ones:

  • Negative: depression, sadness, anxiety.
  • Positive: joy, celebration or pleasure.

Practicing these strategies regularly makes it easier to listen to your body, which will create greater awareness. You may experience a bit of a learning curve, but it is possible!

Melissa Buscetta is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who is currently working with Bariatric and Medical Weight Management patients. She is very enthusiastic about teaching others how to live a healthier life before and after bariatric surgery.