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Using the 0-5 "Hunger Scale" for Weight Management

Using a personal hunger scale is so fundamental to weight management that you will wonder why you haven't used one until now. Here's how one works.

The hunger scale helps you rate your hunger on a scale of 0-10. Here are the key reference numbers to understand:

Hunger NumberWhat It Means
0Empty: The hunger point at which an infant cries or an adult has a hunger pang. When you're at 0, it's time to eat.
5Satisfied or comfortable: When an infant stops feeding or when an adult feels a neutral feeling, neither hungry nor full. When it's time to stop eating.
7Full: When you feel pressure inside the stomach from overeating. This is fattening.
10Stuffed: When you feel as though you are can't-eat-another-bite stuffed and are highly uncomfortable from eating way too much food. This is highly fattening.

Using a hunger scale gives you excellent feedback about your eating habits. It can have a profound impact on your weight-loss efforts immediately.

What's Your Number?

On a scale of 0 to 10—with 0 being empty, 5 being comfortable, 7 being full, and 10 being stuffed, what is your hunger number right now? Close your eyes and focus your attention on your stomach, which is somewhere around your navel. Set aside any analytical or intellectual data you have about when you last ate and simply let your stomach give you a number. By the way, when you hear its number, thank your stomach for the information.

What does your number mean? If it's 0, it's time to eat. If it is above 0, wait until your stomach registers 0 before you eat.

Toward the end of a meal—and definitely before you have second helpings—stop and ask your stomach what its hunger number is. If it's 5, stop eating. If it's 4, you have room for some more food. If it's 6 or above, stop eating and forgive yourself for having overeaten. Wait until you are at 0 before you eat again.

It's possible to get below 0. This happens if you ignore your hunger signals, skip meals, or have low blood sugar. You can also get below 0 if for some reason you can't eat when you're hungry. Such reasons could be that food isn't available, you're in a business meeting, or so on. You could feel lightheaded, jittery, irritable, or headachy. The urge at that time is to “eat everything now.” Don't do that. Instead, here is what to do if you get below 0:

  • Eat a little something to get up to 0. This could be a piece of fruit, a cracker, juice, or some other food.
  • Wait 10 to 15 minutes until your stomach hunger level is at 0.
  • Eat normally, up to or below 5.

The beauty of this system is its simplicity. After you try this a handful of times, you'll be amazed at what you learn about your eating habits.

Snacking for Weight Loss

Let's say you're planning to eat dinner at 7 p.m., but it's only 5 p.m., and your stomach is already empty and announcing its hunger. You are at 0. This is a great time for a snack. You can eat a little something to get your hunger number up to 2 or 3 to tide you over until dinner. It wouldn't make much sense to eat up to 5 because then you wouldn't be hungry when dinner is served.

Snacks are great for whenever you are at 0 but it isn't mealtime. You can take snacks with you just in case you get to 0 when no one else with you is hungry. That way, you don't get overly hungry and famished. Overly hungry means you could eat the proverbial house. A little snack here and there prevents inhaling your food at the next meal.

Only eat snacks when you need them, that is when you are at 0 and it isn't time for a regular meal. Some people need snacks daily; some don't.


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Healthy Weight Loss © 2005 by Lucy Beale and Sandy G. Couvillon. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

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