Healthy Eating for Your Active Lifestyle

“It’s simple,” someone recently told me. “Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full.” While the idea of relying on inner body signals to guide food intake sounds easy, many people have lost the skill of listening to and obeying their body. From mindlessly overeating to dieting, we are often out of touch with what our bodies are telling us.

Harness Your Inner Wisdom With a Hunger Scale

How your body controls hunger and fullness

Hunger is a sensation that makes you want to eat (i.e. stomach growling). Fullness or satiety is a feeling of satisfaction after eating. Hunger and fullness are influenced by

Hunger also varies depending on how physically active you have been, sleep patterns, stress levels and the type of food you eat (i.e. protein- and fibre-rich foods are more filling). In contrast, appetite is a desire or interest in food that can override hunger and fullness. Think of it this way. Do you fill your gas tank every time you drive past a gas station? No. You check the fuel gauge first to see if the tank is empty. Similarly, rather than eating every time you think about food, check in with your hunger scale to determine if you are experiencing true hunger or simply appetite.

Rating your hunger

Using a hunger scale can improve your awareness of, and help you eat according to, how your body feels. Aim to eat when hunger is at level two (before you feel ravenous) and stop when fullness is at level four.

Tune into your inner body signals

If you are new to using a hunger scale, it may take time to understand what each level feels like. Noting your physical body signals to hunger and fullness in a journal can help you tune in. Start with these questions:

  • What does a ‘one’ feel like when you’re very hungry?
  • What does a ‘five’ feel like when you’re very full?
  • Where are you right now on a scale of one to five?
  • What do you notice about your body that made you choose that number?

Then keep a food journal for three days and record the following:

  • when and what you ate
  • what you were doing and feeling before you started eating
  • your hunger and fullness rating before, during (about halfway through) and after each meal/snack
  • physical cues that made you choose a particular number

Finally, look for patterns. For example:

  • Do you often feel like you want a snack even when you are not hungry?
  • Do you let yourself get to a ‘one’ and wind up eating too much, too fast?
  • Halfway through your meal, are you at a ‘four’ but continue eating to clean your plate?
  • Do you use food rules, such as not eating after 6:00 pm, even if you drop to a level one?

Understanding your personal eating patterns will help you decide what times or situations may require extra attention in listening to your body.

Using the hunger scale in daily life

“Tuning into your hunger and fullness signals can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight and can improve your relationship with food,” says registered dietitian Jaclyn Chute. Once you have learned what hunger and fullness feel like to you, the PAC Principle can be helpful.

PAC Principle

Pause when the desire to eat strikes.
Assess the trigger for eating (why you want to eat) and ask yourself a few questions.

* Am I hungry? (Use the hunger scale.)
  • What am I feeling? Is there a non-food way to manage my feelings?
  • How will that food feel in my body? Is that okay with me?

Choose the right decision for you at that time. Sometimes it may be eating (even in the absence of hunger), sometimes it may not.

Perfection is not the goal, but rather, flexible self-care that allows you to live the healthiest life you can enjoy.

The self assessment questions were inspired by articles in Today’s Dietitian and Health Link BC. The PAC Principle is from Maria Ricuperio, RD’s Health at Every Size® workshop at the 2014 Dietitian of Canada’s Conference.

Jaclyn Chute

Registered Dietitian

Jaclyn (BSc, RD) is a registered dietitian and nutrition educator at Alberta Milk. Integrating the science of nutrition with the taste of great food is her passion, whether at work or in her kitchen.

Article posted on November 1, 2014

Active Tip

Vigorous activity can rev up your metabolic rate for up to 7 hours after your workout. That means you continue to burn calories long after you towel off.

The Expert Says

“Tuning into your hunger and fullness signals can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight and can improve your relationship with food,” says registered dietitian Jaclyn Chute.