Nutrition Articles

Dealing with Hunger and Food Cravings

Eat Better and Manage Your Weight without Deprivation

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If you’ve fallen into the habit of ignoring hunger cues (eating when the clock says it's "lunch time" or eating when you are not even hungry), tune back in to your body. Keep a journal to track your hunger and satiety before and after eating. (You can also use the Nutrition Notes section on your Nutrition Tracker to record these sensations.) When assessing your hunger level, use the following scale to rank how your body feels in terms of hunger or fullness (also called satiety).

Hunger Level Sensations and Symptoms
1 Starving, weak, dizzy
2 Very hungry, cranky, low energy, a lot of stomach growling
3 Pretty hungry, stomach is growling a little
4 Starting to feel a little hungry
5 Satisfied, neither hungry nor full
6 A little full, pleasantly full
7 A little uncomfortable
8 Feeling stuffed
9 Very uncomfortable, stomach hurts
10 So full you feel sick


Once you begin paying attention to how you’re feeling before and after you eat, you can start to make changes in what and how much you eat according to your hunger. It’s best to eat when your hunger level is at a 3 or 4. Once you wait until you’re at a 1 or 2 and are feeling very, very hungry, you are more likely to overeat or choose less healthful foods. (Remember: Any food will quell hunger, so we often reach for whatever is easy and convenient when we're feeling desperate to eat.) At a level 3 or 4, when you’re just starting to feel some hunger signals, you can make a conscious decision to eat the right amount of healthful and tasty foods. It's important, too, to be aware of how much you eat. It's best to stop eating at level 6 before you feel uncomfortably full (7-10). Your brain registers the signals that you're full slowly, and learning to eat to satisfaction without overeating will take some attention and practice.

Another important strategy, as you become aware of your hunger signals, is to eliminate all distractions and make food the main attraction of your meal. Watching TV, reading, using the computer or paying bills while eating can reduce your ability to recognize satiety.
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About The Author

Sarah Haan Sarah Haan
Sarah is a registered dietitian with a bachelor's degree in dietetics. She helps individuals adopt healthy lifestyles and manage their weight. An avid exerciser and cook, Sarah likes to run, lift weights and eat good food. See all of Sarah's articles.

Member Comments

  • This is great advice for most people. If you find that food is controlling your life, and you have uncontrollable urges and compulsions, you may have an eating disorder and will need professional help to recover. - 9/10/2014 1:32:12 PM
  • I make sure I have some of my favorite things so I don't get to the point of uncontrollable cravings. I feel that all foods can have a place in a healthy "diet", just not in vast amounts. I love chocolate and try to have even a very small amount each day. I know once a week I will crave chips so I have a normal portion size and not eat the whole bag. IF we go to a buffet, I can have a little bit of my favorites but not three heaping platters.

    I grew up giving in to cravings and eating everything in sight when I failed and gave in. Learning control and portion control has been something I have been working really hard at and it's working for me. If I think I will never have something again, I will want it more and hate myself when I give in. I don't want to do that anymore! - 5/28/2014 7:05:16 AM
  • MARTHASKI
    I'm definitely printing out that hunger rating chart and using it to track alongside my meals. What a convenient tool. - 5/12/2014 1:58:41 PM
  • I will have to start doing the hunger test - 1/17/2014 11:23:10 AM
  • This was the article that showed up the moment Sparkpeople loaded today, and it fits perfectly with why I logged on at this particular moment!
    I was feeling hungry, something which I have often in the past allowed to overcome rational thought and just shoved something in my mouth to stop the feeling. However, after a recent bout of illness, my stomach seems to have contracted, and I've allowed myself to follow the signals of my stomach even when I haven't even eaten half of the meal I'd planned. I haven't been able to finish more than one or two meals since getting over my illness, which shows me what I already knew but wouldn't recognize: I take more than my body needs, or even wants.
    Today I logged on to leave the comment, "I'm starting to understand that feeling hunger is ok." I have to eat on a certain schedule, as do most busy people, and if I stop eating when my body says I'm done, I will be hungry before the next available time to eat. THAT IS OK! In fact, that is how it's supposed to work. It might take some getting used to, but I like knowing that my body has been jolted into working the way it should. I now need to take advantage and keep listening to and following the cues my body gives me. - 1/10/2014 11:34:59 AM
  • For some of us the issue is medical. I get hypoglycemic if I don't eat enough carbs the day before. While tracking food & keeping calories down, that isn't easy. I do it, and manage to deal with all this, but those days when I get hypoglycemic (usually because I didn't feel like eating that many carbs the previous day) are just horrible because I can't get my blood sugar up no matter what or how much I eat, and if I didn't track what I eat, I'd end up feeling both "10" & "1" at the same. - 11/23/2013 12:30:54 AM
  • PEACENCARROTS
    Liked the Hunger Level Chart. Thanks. - 10/11/2013 11:23:18 AM
  • while this sounds reasonable, everyone's body is different. I am usually not hungry in the morning, but if I don't eat, I will inevitably overeat sometime during the day. Eating a small meal every three hours is the only thing that works for me. - 10/11/2013 10:04:24 AM
  • Don't rule out chemistry when it comes to cravings. It's no surprise that the foods that most people crave and binge on are loaded with sugar and starch (which is really still sugar in disguise - starch is simply a plant's storage form of sugar).

    A natural unprocessed food diet has a very low level of sugar/starch, and even that usually comes packaged with lots of fiber or protein, which mitigates your body's response to it.

    Eating sugar causes an immediate release of insulin, and sets you up for a roller coaster of blood sugar levels. Low blood sugar is simply another form of hunger - that's the one that touches off the headaches and fogginess.

    Smoothing out the roller coaster will go a long way to easing your cravings, and you do that at the source - by lowering the amount of sugar and starch you ingest at any given meal or snack. - 10/11/2013 8:17:55 AM
  • I'll definitely start tracking my hunger scale! - 9/17/2013 1:40:45 PM
  • I love this Article. I also agree with most of what THINSTEAD said about your body craving particular nutrients- but I think that it's an across-the-board thing. Sure, you crave sweets when certain emotions strike, you can also crave crunchy or salty when others come about. But when taking emotions out of the game, cravings say the same thing- "This might help." - 9/13/2013 11:26:13 AM
  • The 1-10 chart is actually helping me! Love it! - 3/14/2013 10:26:49 PM
  • To crave spinach or carrots is one thing. That's your body signaling it would like some more of a particular nutrient. But if you crave cookies, chocolate, chips or pasta at some point each day, then that's emotional eating behavior. The only way to stop emotional eating behavior is to deal with the underlying emotions that are generating it. I found energy psycholgy was the best way for me. I took a look at what need comfort foods were serving, and what role food took in my life growing up and used EFT to relase the emotions that were causing the problem. I'm down 55 lbs and I no longer have daily cravings. I actually find myself getting hunger pangs sometimes now and having to stop what I'm doing to eat. It feels great to stop obsessing over food. I'm so much happier now. But I can totally relate to what it feels like to crave particular foods. - 12/23/2012 12:27:46 PM
  • PAMPEEKEMD
    Keeping meals and snacks on a regular schedule is essential because it trains our bodies and minds in the art of hunger. It also means that, knowing what is needed at 3 p.m. or for the next morning's breakfast, we can be prepared and not think as much about all the other options.

    When we're hungry outside of our schedule, we need first to distract ourselves, then remind ourselves that no one ever died of hunger between scheduled meals, and then to consider why.

    I was first senior research fellow in NIH Office of Complementary Medicine. Using food addiction as template, THE HUNGER FIX addiction plan integrates personal empowerment, spirituality, along with whole food nutrition and restorative physical activity. - 12/23/2012 9:59:41 AM
  • CANUCKSFAN2
    If I waited until I was hungry to eat, then I would be at a 1 all the time. I have to eat on a regular continual basis or I will probably hit the 1 a lot of the time. - 7/29/2012 5:40:58 PM

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