Mindful Eating 101: Recognizing Hunger and Fullness Cues

by | Apr 1, 2019 | Last updated Feb 15, 2022

“Listen to your hunger and fullness cues!”, “Stop when you feel full”.  Sounds simple enough, right? Like many psych topics discussed at Noom, it’s actually not so straight-forward. When we’re children, we eat when we’re hungry, and we stop when we’re full. There’s little external factors that alter us from using our bodies intuition to make decisions about food. So why is it so darn hard to do this in adulthood?

There is a laundry list of things that impact our hunger/fullness cues as adults.  Often, these things have little to do with *actual* hunger and fullness. Here’s a few you might be familiar with:

Influencers of food choices:

  • Negative Emotion: Stress, Anxiety, Fear, Boredom, Restriction
  • Positive Emotion: Excitement, “Treat yourself” mentality
  • Events: Special occasions, birthdays, holidays
  • Social Pressure: work-related special functions, friends/family in town, “partying”
  • Environmental: vacations, traveling, workplace treats
  • Behavioral: ignoring true hunger, eating past fullness

Oh boy. That’s a lot of ways we’re influenced by our environment! Never fear, we’re all about solutions here. Now it’s time to demystify how we can work on those influencers!

Defining “listen to your hunger!”

Think of the last time you felt *truly* hungry. What symptoms come up for you? Are you infamously “hangry”, e.g. your mood shifts when hunger strikes? You’re not alone, this is one common symptom of true hunger.  You might also feel: light-headed, lethargic, tired, or have a gnawing feeling in your stomach. Make note of these feelings and when they come up for you.

Rate your hunger on a scale of 1 to 10. Is it at least a 6? It might be time for a snack or meal! If it’s a 5 or lower, ask yourself what your body is trying to tell you. You might be thirsty, bored, or lonely – not hungry! Whatever is is, focus on doing what’s right for you.  Furthermore, it can also be helpful to recognize how long it takes between meals and snacks to feel at or above a Level 6 on the hunger scale. Note how different foods, and food combinations, impact satiation and satiety (how satisfied you feel directly after a meal, and how long you feel satisfied after the fact).

Defining “fullness” and when to stop

A key component to feeling your fullness, is to slow it down. Many of us rush through meals and snacks because of a busy schedule – it totally makes sense! But try cutting back on your social media scrolling 10-20 minutes each day, and spend that time on your meals.  We promise, you’ll notice that feeling your fullness becomes that much easier! Speaking of social media, make sure to put aside distractions during meal time, and enjoy our food! As you munch through your meal, take periodic breaks and re-assess how full you are. It’s a little tedious at first, but with practice it will become second nature!

Remember, a big component of mindful eating is practicing a non-judgemental attitude when re-learning your intuitive hunger and fullness cues. It takes practice, so give yourself the time, space, and judgement-free attitude you need to succeed long term!

Are you ready to start getting in touch with your hunger and fullness cues?
Lose weight for good

Tribole, E., & Resch., E. (2017). The Intuitive Eating Workbook: Ten Principles for Nourishing a Healthy Relationship with Food. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Author: Katie Horrell, MS, RDN, CPT