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How to Use the Hunger and Fullness Scale


By Michelle May, MD

The Hunger and Fullness Scale, from the book series, Eat What You Love,
Love What You Eat, is a useful tool for assessing your hunger and
fullness levels before, during, and after you eat. It will help you
identify your hunger cues, observe how different types and amounts of
food affect you, and recognize when the urge to eat has been triggered
by something other than hunger. This scale is not intended to set strict
guidelines about when you should eat; rather, it helps you develop a
greater awareness of your body’s subtle signals.

The Hunger and Fullness Scale ranges from 1 to 10. A level 1 represents
ravenous — you’re so hungry you could eat this page. A level 10 means
you’re so full that you’re in pain and feel sick. Remember, smaller
numbers, smaller stomach; larger numbers, larger stomach.

In the middle of the scale is level 5: neutral, comfortable, or
satisfied. At a 5, you cannot feel your stomach at all. It’s neither
empty nor full; it isn’t growling or feeling stretched.

It helps to develop a good mental picture of what’s happening to your
stomach at these different levels of hunger and fullness. Make a fist
with your right hand; your empty stomach is about that size. This is a
level 1. One or two handfuls of food will take you from a level 1 to a

Another way to picture your stomach is to think of a balloon. When it’s
empty, you’re at a 1. When you blow that first puff of air into the
balloon, it fills out gently and takes its shape. That’s a 5.

As you take a deep breath and force more air into a balloon, its elastic
walls begin to stretch and expand. These are levels 6 through 10. Your
stomach is able to stretch to a 10 in order to hold excess food;
therefore, the numbers over 5 indicate how stretched or uncomfortable
your stomach feels.

If you blow too much air in, a balloon would continue to stretch and
eventually pop. Fortunately, stomachs rarely rupture, but most of us
have eaten so much at one time or another that we’ve said, “If I eat one
more bite, I will explode!” When you feel this way, you’re at a 10.

Of course, changes in blood sugar levels, energy levels, moods, and
substances in the bloodstream resulting from the digestive process also
signal hunger and fullness. These other clues help tell you how hungry
or full you are.

It may be challenging at first to label your hunger and fullness levels
with numbers, but as you practice, it becomes second nature. You can
learn to use this awareness to decide when, what, and how much to eat.

Hunger and Fullness Descriptions

  1. Ravenous: Too hungry to care what you eat. This is a high-risk time for overeating.
  2. Starving: You feel you must eat now!
  3. Hungry: Eating would be pleasurable, but you can wait longer.
  4. Hunger pangs: You’re slightly hungry; you notice your first thoughts of food.
  5. Satisfied: You’re content and comfortable. You’re neither hungry nor full; you can’t feel your stomach at all.
  6. Full: You can feel the food in your stomach.
  7. Very full: Your stomach feels stretched, and you feel sleepy and sluggish.
  8. Uncomfortable: Your stomach is too full, and you wish you hadn’t eaten so much.
  9. Stuffed: Your clothes feel very tight, and you’re very uncomfortable.
  10. Sick: You feel sick and/or you’re in pain.

Michelle May, MD is a recovered yoyo dieter and the award-winning author
of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break Your
Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle. Download chapter one at amihungry.com/chapter1.