There’s an old saying, “If hunger isn’t the problem, then food isn’t the answer.” In my coaching practice, one of the frequent themes I hear among those trying to lose weight is that they eat to meet various needs other than hunger: self-soothing of depression, a companion in lonliness, something enjoyable to fight boredom to name a few. While these are legitimate needs and eating a candy bar may divert your focus for a short-lived moment of peace, in the long term “comfort food” tends to just compound the issue. Now you are dealing with being overweight as well as feeling even more depressed or lonely!
The first step is to deal with what’s ‘eating you’ and find a true solution to your ill feelings, not just a temporary bandaid to cover it up. That’s a topic that requires a good bit of self-assessment and perhaps the help of a coach. But what then? How do you truly modify your habits so you only eat to solve the problem of hunger?
There is a tool which I have used myself for quite some time and also have used with good success with clients call the “Hunger Scale.” There are a few variations out there, but I like Bob Greene’s version the best. Basically, it’s a scale from one to ten that rates your hunger level, from 1 being so hungry that you are shaky and irritable, all the way up to 10 where you feel absolutely stuffed and very uncomfortable (like after ‘getting your money’s worth’ at an all-you-can-eat buffet). Rating yourself on this scale forces you to pay attention to your body’s hunger signals, something you likely have been ignoring if you’ve been overeating. This is what the Hunger Scale looks like:
10. Stuffed: You are so full, you feel nauseous.
9. Very uncomfortably full: You need to loosen your clothes.
8. Uncomfortably full: You feel bloated.
7. Full: You feel a little bit uncomfortable.
6. Perfectly comfortable: You feel satisfied.
5. Comfortable: You’re more or less satisfied, but could eat a little more.
4. Slightly uncomfortable: You’re just beginning to feel signs of hunger.
3. Uncomfortable: Your stomach is rumbling.
2. Very uncomfortable: You feel irritable and unable to concentrate.
1. Weak and light-headed: Your stomach acid is churning.
The goal of this tool is to help you pay attention to how hungry you feel so you can set some limits and avoid eating mindlessly. To take better control of your intake, eat when you are at a level 3, and stop when you are at a level 5. Do not wait until level 2 or 1 before you eat – you’ll be more likely to overeat. Stop at level 5; you’ll likely be at level 6 within 20 minutes when your brain gets the signal that you are full. If you are at level 4, take a drink of water (sometimes thirst feels like hunger) or do something else for a few minutes and the hunger feeling will likely pass. This can be one point where your body goes to it’s enery storage for some calories (bye-bye fat!). When your hunger returns, you will likely be at level 3 and you can go ahead and eat.
So, before you reach for something to eat, take a moment to truly assess your physical hunger signals, and rate them on the Hunger Scale. If you can’t honestly say you are at a level 3, ask yourself what the real issue is and go for a true solution, or distract yourself with an alternative, healthy activity. You may find that simply using the Hunger Scale to control your portion sizes and discourage mindless eating can have a significant impact on your weight loss efforts, without having to count calories or go hungry!
A couple of last tips to help avoid overeating:
- Limit distractions, eat slowly and savor each bite. Have you ever been in conversation or been distracted while eating, and before you realize it your food was gone and you took a second helping just because you didn’t fully enjoy the first plate? By savoring your food you will enjoy your food more and eat less.
- Don’t eat while watching TV, playing games, etc.; you can easily down a whole bag of snacks and reach levels 7-10 without even realizing it. I’ve done it too!
I encourage you to try using the Hunger Scale for a couple days and let me know how it works for you in the comment section below!
To your health,