There are many signals that tell us it's time to eat (other than a rumbling stomach): television ads, social events, smells from the food court and the candy bowl at the office. These factors in the environment trigger our senses and other mental processes that make us think we are hungry even when we’re not.
Use the Hunger Rating Scale
The Hunger Rating Scale can help you decide if you are experiencing real hunger.
Remember that physical hunger builds gradually over time (usually over several hours after a meal), whereas emotional eating and cravings usually come on very suddenly. When you are genuinely hungry, you may experience one or several of the symptoms listed below:
- Stomach pangs or growling
- Emptiness in the stomach
- Low energy/fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating
How does the scale work?
Before you eat, take a moment to rate your hunger. Think about how hungry you physically feel. Your goal is to eat between levels four and six. This means you are eating when you are hungry but stopping when you are comfortably full.
Try not to put off eating for too long. Waiting until level one or two—when you are starving and unable to concentrate—may lead to overeating. When you first start to feel any of the symptoms listed above, you should probably start to think about eating.
We often let the sight of food tempt us when we are above a level six on the scale. Before you indulge, take a step back and think about how you feel. Did you just eat a few minutes ago? Are you eating in response to an emotion or because you are experiencing physical hunger?
How to Handle Eating Temptation
Think of alternatives to eating for when these temptations arise. Some ideas are:
- Drink a glass of cold water or another zero-calorie beverage
- Take a walk to change the scenery
- Do another form of exercise (sit-ups, running, swimming, tennis, etc.)
- Call a friend or family member
- Read a book or magazine
- Do you like to knit or paint? Work on a hobby
- Play a game with someone else
Download the Hunger Rating Scale and carry it with you in your wallet or purse. It can help you decide before you eat if you are experiencing real hunger.