Hacking the Hunger Game

Over the weekend, I was eating some left over pizza and catching up on emails when my monthly issue of Food & Nutrition Tips from the IDEA Health & Fitness Association landed in my inbox. Timing is everything.I don’t know about you, but the winter weather we had last week made me want to hunker down at home and eat. A lot.

Their top article, “Using the Hunger Scale,” dropped a little epiphany into my lap, because I realized that I experience my hunger, or lack of it, as a dichotomy: I’m hungry or not hungry. And yes, if you ask me, I can recognize the difference between being hungry and being hangry, but I still lump those differences into one experience.

What’s great about the hunger scale is the way it treats hunger and satiety as a spectrum rather than a dichotomy, and the goal is to work toward eating, and stopping, somewhere in the green zone. You start eating somewhere between 3 (less famished) and 4 (mildly hungry), and stop eating between 5 (satiated) and 6 (mildly full).

Using the hunger scale is one aspect of a practice called intuitive eating, which involves consuming when hungry, stopping when full, and not restricting certain types of food. There is research to support that intuitive eating is associated with “lower body mass index, better psychological health, and improved dietary intake and eating behaviors.” The basic idea is that it can help a person redevelop his or her natural hunger and fullness cues, rather than falling prey to triggers from stress, sadness, boredom and anxiety.

Admittedly, note the authors of the article, Cassandra Padgett and Natalie Digate Muth, it’s not easy at first, and they provide some tips to help you use the hunger scale to cultivate your own intuitive eating lifestyle:

  • Before eating, ask, “Am I hungry?” This pause will help you identify if you are eating for hunger or for another reason, like sadness or stress. If you answer yes, you should choose a matching number on the scale. If you say no, try to identify the eating trigger and try to redirect or minimize it.
  • Eat at a table, with family or friends, and without “devices.” Eliminating distractions supports mindful eating.
  • Slow down. It can take 20 minutes to feel full after eating. Start with small portions, eat slowly and pause before getting seconds. Also put your fork down between bites, chew more slowly and engage in conversation during meals.
  • Keeping healthy snacks on hand will help to avoid extreme hunger.

I’m going to give it a try, with some chicken pot pie and some orange slices. Give it a shot, and let me know how it goes for you.

Happy February!




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