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How to Deal with Hunger by Using a Hunger Scale

A common complaint among people who are watching their weight is, “I always feel hungry!” Yet many people think they are hungry when actually, they may be feeling bored, sad, stressed, excited or scared.  It’s normal to occasionally eat when we aren’t really hungry.  

But some people have a harder time controlling their eating, especially when they eat to try and feel better after getting upset or being nervous.  People who eat in response to feelings or emotions may have a hard time stopping, and end up overeating.  Some people eat in response to physical cues, such as seeing an ad on television for a juicy fast-food burger or driving past a bakery and smelling freshly baked bread. 

And if you have diabetes, you may have been told to eat your meals at about the same time every day, whether you want to or not.  It’s not surprising, then, that a lot of people don’t even know what physical hunger feels like because they’re used to eating for other reasons.

To help you gain better control of your eating and to lessen the chances of what is called “mindless” eating, try using the Hunger Scale.  Here’s how it works:

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “ravenous” and 10 being “stuffed”, rank your hunger right before you start to eat.
  • Halfway through your meal, rank your hunger again using the same scale of 1 to 10. If you’re at a “5”, “6” or “7” put your fork down and stop eating.
  • If you decide to keep eating, finish your meal and rank your hunger.  Be honest with yourself, too. If you feel like you’ve just eaten Thanksgiving dinner but have a huge bowl of ice cream in front of you, chances are you’re eating to help deal with some kind of emotion.

The Hunger Scale

0 3 5 7 10
Ravenous Hungry Comfortable Full Stuffed


Get in the habit of using the hunger scale on a regular basis. You can learn a lot about yourself with this handy little tool!

Dealing with Emotional Eating

Here are few ways to help you manage emotional eating:

  • Make a list of activities that you enjoy doing (other than eating!), such as walking, reading, gardening, etc. Keep this list handy and refer to it when you get the urge to eat. 
  • Call up a friend or family member who can take your mind off of eating.
  • Try waiting out the urge. Give yourself 10 minutes. Then, after 10 minutes, if you really want to eat, have a small portion.
  • Drink a glass of water or cup of tea. Hunger can be mistaken for thirst.
  • Keep healthy snacks around, such as baby carrots, low fat crackers or cut up fruit, rather than high-fat, high-calorie treats. 
  • Don’t deprive yourself. It’s not uncommon for people trying to lose weight to completely cut out all favorite foods, but then end up bingeing on them later. Allow yourself to have a treat on occasion. 
  • If you think your eating is due to depression, anxiety or stress, seek out help from a mental health professional.

Page last updated: November 07, 2019