Aug. 2, 2022

The Hunger Scale: Understanding Your Physical Hunger [Ep. 1]

The Hunger Scale: Understanding Your Physical Hunger [Ep. 1]

When you're coming off of calorie/macro/point counting it can be tricky to figure out how much to eat.  In this episode I give you a very simple tool to determine the right amount for your body.  Your body is smarter than you give her credit! You'll learn how to listen to her--when to start eating and when to stop.

Key takeaways:

  • what does physical hunger look like
  • how to use your own body for hunger and fullness cues for weight loss
  • what is a meal vs. snack
  • the 3•3•3 method

More from Well with Lisa:

More from Well with Lisa:


I'm Lisa Salisbury. And this is episode one, the hunger scale.


Welcome to Eat Well, Think Well, Live Well; the podcast for women who want to lose weight, but are tired of counting and calculating all the food. I'm your host, Lisa Salsbury. I'm a certified health and weight loss coach and life coach, and most importantly a recovered chronic dieter. I'll teach you to figure out why you are eating when you aren't hungry, instead of worrying so much about what you are eating.

Hi, and welcome to episode one. I'm super excited to finally be starting my new podcast. I want to start with what I think is the most important tool my clients use. It's really the one tool you need to ditch your diet app. Do you ever think? I just wish I could eat like a normal person. I wish I didn't have to worry about my calories. It's so annoying to count macros and have to enter it all in an app. And you're pretty sure that if you don't do these things, you're going to gain weight. Or at least never be able to lose any weight. So how in the world do you lose weight without counting calories, calculating macros, or managing points? This tool is the way, and it's the reason I wanted to start with it.

So it's called the hunger scale. And it's honestly so simple. I was hesitant that it was even worthy of a title when I first learned about it. But there are several ways to think about a hunger scale. I've seen different coaches use different types of scales. So I'm going to teach you the way I use it with my clients. If you're somewhere where you can write, then you can do this with me on a piece of paper. But if not, you can totally just visualize it in your mind. So picture a number line that goes from negative 10 through zero to positive 10.

On the negative side is hunger and on the positive side is fullness. So negative 10 is super hungry. This is like you've been fasting all day for a medical test or a religious reason. And you have multiple physical symptoms that tell you you are hungry. Your stomach is painful and tight or head hurts. You might feel a little dizzy. This is not the hunger you feel, where you didn't eat a great breakfast and it's lunchtime and tell your friend, oh my gosh, I'm starving. Not that you can't be hungry a few hours after your last meal, but when we're talking about negative 10 hunger, It's probably been upwards of like 10 to 12 hours of wakefulness that you haven't eaten. So it's very uncomfortable. Zero fun.

Positive 10 full is equally as uncomfortable. So this is like Thanksgiving dinner, two or three pieces of pie. You have to lay down and unbutton your pants. Your stomach is painful and distended, and you may have other signs of being overly full, such as heartburn, burping cramping. All of that is also zero fun.

Zero is completely neutral. Your neither hungry nor full you don't feel food or fullness in your stomach. But you also don't feel any physical need for food. There are no physical symptoms and your body just feels normal. You just feel at rest.

Now as you start to move down into hunger from neutral, you're going to start to feel the suggestion of hunger. Your body starts to whisper that it might be time to think about food. At a negative two, you want to consider starting to prepare your food, like, okay, I need to go make some lunch, make some dinner. And then I'd like you to start eating at a negative three.

So at a negative three. You're definitely thinking I'm hungry. I'm really glad. It's time for food. It's not overwhelming, but it just feels like good to eat. It's like, yeah, I'm definitely ready for a meal. Your stomach is starting to give you like those physical signs that it's empty. And so you're really like pleased that it's time for food. It's not an emergency in any way. You're not crabby or grumpy you are well before you're starting to get that headache, lightheaded feeling. So yay. It's time to eat. You're at a negative three. It's great. So you have your food prepared. You sit down to eat, you know why to pay attention here because just like we waited until negative three to eat. We want to stop eating at a positive three. So this is going to take practice. And awareness, and you're going to overshoot as you start learning this skill. Um, it's fine. Don't panic. No one ever like gets these numbers exactly right. And honestly, they're of course they're, these are subjective. We don't put sensors inside your stomach and see if you're like exactly at a negative three or positive three or whatnot. So. Of course, this is just your own perception. But, the positive three that we're looking for is sort of just right. It's really, before you feel any sense of fullness where food is like pushing on your stomach. You don't feel any heaviness, but you do feel satisfied. It's like a comfortable fullness in that you aren't uncomfortable in your body in any way. You for sure aren't hungry anymore. And it feels like you could not eat again for several hours. So this positive three is just another way I hear this described is enough or eating to enough. We're not eating to full. Full is really more on your positive five positive six. That's really, when you're getting full. It's a comfortable feeling of enough in the body. Remember this is all physical feeling. It might not feel emotionally enough. We will get to that later. So here is the tricky part. I have a really technical term for what it means to go from a negative three to a positive three. You ready? It's called a meal. Okay. I know I'm a dork, but really it's so important because if you are hungry enough to eat, I want you to eat a meal and get to positive three. That means that I'm asking you not to snack. Oh, I know snacking is so popular and I, I think it's probably one of the most frequent things I see requests for like on Facebook when people are like, I need ideas on what to eat. Some people, you know, you have friends that are like, what are you guys making for dinner this week? But I see more often than not. Hey, anyone have ideas for low calorie snacks? Listen if you're hungry enough to eat, I want you to eat a meal. Snacking for the most part, it's just totally unnecessary for adults. We are made to eat. And then stop eating. And then eat again. None of our ancestors grazed all day or ate six small meals a day. There wasn't time for that. And it's just not how human bodies were designed to be fueled, frankly, it's just not necessary. The main problem with snacking is that we think we need a snack when we're on the hunger scale, say like around negative one, or maybe we're at zero. It's just been a while since we've eaten. And so we're like, I probably should have a snack and then we eat a little something and we either stay at zero because it wasn't enough to make a difference. Or maybe we're at a positive one. And then shortly after that, we find ourselves drifting down into like negative one, hungry, and then we're starting to get worried. Like, what if I get hungry? If you think of that number scale we spend all day jumping around that negative one, zero positive one back to negative one. And then we wonder why we felt hungry all day. And then it gets to be evening and we're like, I just got to eat. Cause I've just been hungry all day. And then we end up getting overly full. Imagine if you're like, I'm going to sit down for an entire meal I'm going to eat until I'm comfortably full I've. I've comfortably had enough that a positive three. And then I'm going to wait to eat again and till I'm physically hungry. This actually is not the way most of us eat. So you might be really surprised if you start applying this, how infrequently you actually do need to eat. So I find there two main problems with not abiding by the hunger scale and with the snacking. The first is we never feel true physical hunger. It's a good thing to start trying to feel as most of us really don't feel it that often, because food is just easy to come by in our world. Right. And we tend to overeat our meals. And when the clock tells us it's time for the next we eat, regardless of what our body says. We're like, well, it's lunchtime. Even if we're still full from breakfast, we eat it anyway. Or it's like after school and the kids are having a snack and you're like, well, it's snack time. I should have a snack. Regardless of what your true physical hunger is. So I think that's the first problem is that. We're not really feeling true. Physical hunger. And the second one is we don't get to feel that good, satisfied feeling during the day. We just maybe graze or snack all day. And we don't get that comfortable, full enough feeling. That helps us be emotionally satisfied as well. And when we never feel that satisfaction with our food, we're far more likely to overeat in the evening. After a day of snacking. Whenever my clients tell me, you know, it was just a hungry day. I just was like hungry all day. I don't know what's wrong with me. First of all, we rule out other factors like menstrual cycle or if there was any kind of illness going on. But then I ask them where they were on the hunger scale after breakfast, more often than not, breakfast was missed. Snack was a snack was grabbed. And they spent the day snacking standing up or in the car. So. This would be the biggest thing I would try. If you feel like that, if you're like, I just feel like I'm hungry all day. I want you to try sitting down for a meal and that is important to sit down. And really pay attention. And feel that physical hunger and then eat until you feel comfortable and feel like you've had enough. And then wait, wait it out. Wait until you really feel physical hunger again. Not that first, like, I think I might be hungry, not like the worry of being hungry. But true physical hunger. And let me just be clear. I don't want you to spend all day being hungry. I want you to eat when you are hungry. But I also want you to test out being hungry. If we simply use this 3, 3, 3 meal method, so three meals a day from a negative three to a positive three. You're going to lose weight. This is how our great-grandmothers ate. They work during the day they waited to eat until meal time. Then they ate just enough to be satisfied because likely that was all there was, or maybe that was their share. Share and a big family. I know this feels way too simple because physical hunger is not the only reason we eat and we will get to emotional eating and celebratory eating and all the reasons that we eat that isn't physical hunger. We will get to that in other episodes of this podcast. But the truth is the vast majority of your meals can be eaten this way. In 21 meals per week. If one of them is out with friends on the weekend, another is a celebratory lunch after a soccer game. When. And you choose to eat past physical hunger or maybe eat before you're actually hungry. That's still 19 out of 21 meals in the week that can be eaten according to physical hunger. That's 90% of the time. That's plenty to lose weight. You do not have to be doing this a hundred percent of the time. I know I said, I wouldn't be talking about emotional hunger, which is totally different, but eating to physical hunger. We'll still be bringing up emotions. When you're waiting for hunger. Corinne Crabtree says it activates and triggers restriction and deprivation fears because of all your other diets. Okay. So basically your brain naturally goes to the thinking you have always used when you've tried to lose weight in the past. So this is normal for your brain to do this. But this time you can gently remind yourself that waiting for normal physical hunger to appear is what your body was designed to do. It's totally safe. Nothing has gone wrong. Waiting for physical hunger and eating to satisfied is meeting your human needs. So though it's normal for fear and restrictive worries to come up. That's just your past diet trauma. You did not have to live your life at a weight. You don't prefer just because your brain is offering you thoughts. Like. Oh, no, this is restriction. Your work is to rewire that part of your brain. One of the ways we do that aside from just reminding ourselves that physical hunger is normal and nothing has gone wrong. Is to create abundance by planning your meals. That's what we're going to be talking about next week on the podcast. So be sure to tune in for that. Okay. I want to acknowledge at this point that this might sound a little tone, deaf. That you might be thinking. Yeah. Like we've never heard that before. You eat when you're hungry and stop when your full, like, this is not rocket science. It kind of goes back to, you know, eat less and exercise more I don't want you to think. I'm going to leave you high and dry on the rest of the issues here. We all have urges to eat. More when what we're eating tastes great. We have cravings for things at times when it's not time for a meal. Um, we also have desires to eat, to soothe their emotions or for something to do, or just bored. All of those things are true and I don't want you to think that I'm boiling down all of our weight loss problems to just eating when you're hungry and stopping when you're full. This is just a foundational tool. I want you to start with. It's fine. If you're only able to do this one meal this week, one time, one meal. I just want you to test it out. Because physical hunger is the foundation for managing our emotional hunger. If we're not in touch with our physical hunger cues, it will be very difficult to recognize when we're physically hungry and when we're emotionally hungry. So I'm asking you to start with your physical hunger this week. And I promise I will give you more tools for your emotional hunger, for your cravings, for your urges. For all of the celebratory eating, all of that will come. I just can't pack it into the first episode as much as I would love to. So when you're experimenting with the numbers this week, I want you also to just notice your thoughts around them. Notice what's coming up for you. Are you having diet-y restriction thoughts? When you're waiting for a physical hunger, try noticing what your brain is offering you. And what you're thinking, because those are the kinds of things I want to know so that we can coach on them. I want to know what you're thinking so that we can work on those thoughts. What's coming up for you when your body is saying, okay, this is enough. What is your brain saying in that moment? When your stomach is saying, um, it's, it's plenty. We're good here. What, what are the thoughts? Write that stuff down because that's just the awareness we need. Again, we're just doing the first steps here, and this is our very first step. We have to figure out what it is you're thinking when you stop at enough. So I'd love to hear from you. If you want to drop me a DM on Instagram or send me an email, I'd love to hear those thoughts, so that we can put them on the podcast and talk about those kinds of thoughts that come up for you when you don't want to stop. That's all I have for you today on the hunger scale. So go forth this week and experiment with a little physical hunger. And physical fullness. What does a positive to feel like versus a positive four versus a positive six, try and experience all of those this week. Do try to overeat and feel like, okay, where am I on the hunger scale? And then give that a rating. And just use those times to learn about what physical fullness feels like. Let yourself get hungry. Just wait, wait to eat. It's okay. Nothing has gone wrong. Wait to eat a negative one, wait for negative three. And you might try waiting even until you're at a negative five, so you can feel like, okay. Yeah, I know this is too hungry when I get this hungry. This is when I eat fast. This is when I eat too much. That kind of thing. So experiment with all of that. I'd love to know how it goes. You can DM me on Instagram. I'd love to hear from you. All right. Talk to you next week.

Thanks for listening today. If you're ready to get some personalized help from me, I'd encourage you to schedule a free strategy session. Visit or find a link in the show notes. We'll talk about where you currently are with your weight loss goals, and I'll give you some actionable tools. You can start implementing right away. Before you go, make sure you subscribe to the podcast so you can receive new episodes, right when they're released. And if you're learning something new, I'd love for you to leave me a review. Thanks again for joining me, Lisa Salsbury in this episode of Eat Well, Think Well, Live Well. I'll talk to you next time!