The Hunger Scale: Identify emotional hunger from physical hunger and avoid compulsive eating

When should I eat?

Do I feel physical hunger or emotional hunger?

How hungry am I?

Sometimes, we are not aware if we are hungry or if we are full. When your mouth waters and you are craving for chocolates, you may not really be hungry – you may just feel a certain emotion, usually sadness, which rationalized your thoughts to eat chocolates without having a thought if you are hungry at all. The hunger scale is one tool that can help you eat more mindfully. With the hunger scale, the more in touch you are with your hunger, the less you might go overboard.

The Hunger Scale

The hunger scale helps you to rate your hunger from 0-10. Here are the key numbers to refer:


0. Empty. You probably haven’t eaten for more than 7 hours. Your body is begging for food and you start to feel dizzy and nauseous.

1. Ravenous. Weak and light-headed. Your stomach acid is churning. You may have a headache. You can’t concentrate and feel dizzy.

2. Over-hungry. You feel irritable and unable to concentrate. You may even feel nauseous.

3. Hunger pangs. Uncomfortably hungry. Your stomach is rumbling. The urge to eat is strong.

4. Hunger awakens. Slightly uncomfortable. You’re just beginning to feel signs of hunger. You start to think about food. Your body is giving you the signal that you might want to eat.

5. Neutral / Comfortable. You’re more or less satisfied, but could eat a little more. Your body has enough fuel to keep it going and is physically and psychologically just starting to feel satisfied.

6. Just satisfied. Perfectly comfortable. You feel satisfied.

7. Completely satisfied. A little bit uncomfortable. You’re past the point of satisfaction, yet you can still “find room” for a little more. Your body says “no” and your mind says “yes” to a few more bites.

8. Full / Uncomfortable. You feel bloated. You may need to loosen your clothes. Maybe you shouldn’t have had more, but it tasted so good.

9. Stuffed. Very uncomfortably full. Maybe you didn’t eat all day to leave room for this meal and you feel heavy, tired, and bloated.

10. Sick. You are so full you feel nauseous. This might be a typical Thanksgiving Dinner feeling – you are physically miserable, don’t want to or can’t move, and feel like you never want to look at food again.

When do I eat?

Enjoy eating comfortably between 0-2. Never eat too much from 4-5. Stop eating at 5 or 6 and wait until the next meal or snack. Instead of relying on external signs such as empty plates, stop eating as soon as your stomach is pressing against your waistband. If it helps, put your hand on your stomach a few times while eating to check your fullness.

The hunger scale also takes into consideration to differentiate whether you eat because your stomach literally growls or you just want to grab some ice cream because you flunked an exam or broke up with your sweetheart. Here’s how.

Emotional Hunger vs. Physical Hunger

What is Emotional Hunger?

emotional_hungerPizza, chocolates, ice cream and potato chips are considered as food for your feelings. When you’re happy, you eat pizza; when you feel bored, you eat fries or potato chips; and when you are sad, you eat comfort foods like ice cream and chocolates. Emotions have a lot to do with what should we eat, and how much should we eat. Whether you have eaten loads of food minutes ago, emotional hunger won’t rationalize what you feel in your stomach. It develops quickly and makes you feel that urgency to grab something and chew. However, at the end of the day, emotional eating leads to the feeling of guilt and shame.

What is Physical Hunger?

physical_hungerWhen your stomach starts to growl, that is one sign that you are physically hungry. While emotional hunger develops suddenly, physical hunger takes time to build. It usually occurs several hours after a meal as part of the regular digestion process. There are no compulsions accompanying physical hunger and the signs strikes usually below the neck, such as the rumbles in your stomach. Physical hunger usually leaves a feeling of satisfaction after eating and fades away when one feels full.

Mindful Eating

Nothing can make you eat mindfully than keeping a journal of what you eat, how much you ate, how you felt before and after eating as well as proving to yourself that you don’t eat for feelings, that you are just simply starving. Fill out this worksheet for various eating situations where you have a condition (based on the hunger scale) in the next two weeks.




What were you doing?

What did you eat or drink?

What were you feeling before you ate? Number on Hunger Scale:

What were you feeling after you ate? Number on Hunger Scale:

Physical or Emotional Hunger?

You can also make a list of emotions that occur most often which in return makes you emotionally eat. After each emotion, identify a non-food treat/activity that you could use to satisfy that emotion so that each time that emotion occurs, your resort would be not to eat pizza or ice cream or chocolates, but to do some activities which can help you channel those emotions into more positive things.

Recognizing hunger cues is as necessary as choosing the food you eat. It can help you achieve and maintain an ideal and healthy weight which decreases the risk of some fatal diseases. Besides, it is best to eat when you are truly hungry – you can chose the food you want and you can take time to enjoy eating them.

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