Nuances of Fullness
Eating a quantity of food that is just right is as much art as science. Using a number scale can teach over- and undereaters the nuances of hunger and fullness by making you aware of body sensations and allowing you to notice the subtle gradations of satiation.
Think of 0 as hungry, 1 as no longer hungry, 2 as full, and 3 as beyond full. Zero means you have hunger pains and sensations that signal an empty stomach—growling belly, spaciness, lightheadedness, irritability, fatigue, or headache, to name several. An empty stomach is screaming for fuel. Because it takes about 20 minutes for food to move through your digestive system and register in your brain, you may feel hungry for a while as you eat. Eating slowly is a must so that you can notice when hunger goes away, but you don’t want to eat so slowly that you fail to get to the point of no longer hungry within a reasonable period of time. Remember, when hunger is gone, you’ve reached 1. You may not be satisfied, but fuel-wise, you’re no longer on empty.
For overeaters, pay attention to what it feels like physically to be at a 1 and try to stop eating at this point, when hunger is gone. Tune into the difference between 1 and 2 and see which your body prefers. Using a gas tank analogy, full means that you have used up the space allotted for fuel. If you eat until 3, you’ve gone past full and taken in too much food. Don’t judge yourself, but notice what it feels like to have overeaten and be curious about why you ate more than you needed.
For undereaters, it’s okay to go on to 2, fullness. You may feel uncomfortable because you’re used to stopping between 0 and 1 or fear eating too much, but going to full is okay. Don’t confuse clothing feeling tight around your middle or sensing food in your stomach for fullness, and don’t stop eating until hunger is gone and you are sure you are full. Notice sensations without judging them and don’t overfocus on eating too much. Remind yourself that food is fuel and that you need nourishment to function well.
Sometimes you’ll eat knowing you won’t get food for quite a while and may want to eat until you’re full. Other times you know you’ll eat again soon and will purposely leave room for what’s coming. It’s better to try not to eat past full—stopping at 3—when you are learning to eat “normally,” but it’s perfectly fine to do so occasionally when you’ve acquired the skills of intuitive eating. If you aim to stop eating between 1 and 2, you’ll be practicing responding to body cues and giving yourself the nourishment you need. It will take a while to know when you’re no longer hungry or full, but you’ll get there.