DAY # 9
1-10 HUNGER SCALE.
Today we are going to start to cultivate an important mindful eating skill! If you focus on JUST body kindness + working with the 1-10 scale, you can have massive shifts take place (hence the length of this post).
Today you will rate your hunger levels on a scale of 1-10 before you eat using the Hunger Scale below before you eat. If you are a Nutrition Atlanta client, challenge frequent flyer and have already been working with the Hunger Scale, bravo. You have a couple of choices today: continue to assess your hunger levels pre-meal and want to take it up a notch, rate your hunger levels when you are half-way through your meal and/or again when you are done.
PRO TIP: You have a choice: you can do the mindful eating skill of the day at one meal, several meals, or all meals and snacks. If this is a skill you want to adopt and work more with, set reminders on your phone to practice this meal at that particular meal (ie: afternoon snack) until you make it a habit. I always found it easier to practice my mindful eating habit of the day at dinner for some reason. Works for me because we’re seated at the dining room table, go through our pre-meal rituals and I can tune in better.
Pay attention to any black or white, perfectionistic goal achievement thoughts of “I am a failure unless I do it at EVERY meal and snack”. That’s diet culture/perfectionism talking…
We are shooting for 50 Shades of Gray – this compassionate, peaceful space between being really good (how you feel on a diet) and being really bad (how you feel off the rails) with your food choices. It’s the middle zone; the mindful middle where judgment, abusive language, and toxic thoughts cannot thrive.
It’s the opposite of Regina George. Not a Mean Girls fan? No worries, we ALL experienced mean girls in high school, right? Let’s delete the snarky behaviors and thoughts from our head and mouth so that we can heal our relationship with food and our body. BTW: don’t forget to give that hard-working body some appreciation + kindness today!
Back to using the 1-10 scale…
This mindful habit of assessing your true hunger level is important to nourish your body appropriately as well as be able to determine if you are eating for physical or emotional reasons. Remember, no judgment. Zip. Nada.
1= FAMISHED, shaky, panicking, perhaps crying and unable to make a decision on what to do or eat due to seriously low blood sugar levels.
2= STARVING, aka “hangry” and can be difficult to make a healthier choice, your body knows that carbs break down quickly and can create cravings for fast fuel (like sugar).
3= HUNGRY, belly might rumble, you are ready to eat but could eat a salad, sandwich, pizza, yogurt, nothing specific, you would be happy with food in general. This is where people practicing intuitive eating typically eat to avoid getting too hungry.
4= KINDA, you’re just kinda hungry, maybe feeling a bit like munching on something but not hungry-hungry.
5= NEUTRAL, you’re not hungry, full, or really thinking about food.
6= CONTENT, this is where people practicing intuitive eating usually stop their meal, they could eat more but they feel good, pleasantly content and not full or stuffed. Oh I have quite the story to tell about the time I heard my spouse say “no I don’t want anymore [of our favorite Thai food], I’m content.” Wait what?
7= FULL, a little uncomfortable, like you ate just a bite or more too much perhaps because the food was really good and worth it.
8= STUFFED, ugh you feel like you need to unbutton your pants and lay down. Definitely ate past the point of feeling full.
9= VERY STUFFED, yup you feel uncomfortable now and want to remove your pants and are miserable.
10= THANKSGIVING DAY FULL, feeling utterly disgusted, might vomit + likely have pleasant GI side effects like burping, belching, and gas; sleep can be negatively impacted, forget being intimate with anyone all you want to do is sleep.
For example, when I wait until my hunger levels are in the hangry zone (hello #2 or lower), it can be difficult for me to make a healthier choice that gives me energy to power through my day instead of food that zaps my energy. At this point my blood sugar levels are on the floor and I can struggle with decision fatigue trying to figure out what to eat. Because I learned from this experience I typically have my next meal or snack with me ready to go at the office to prevent this from happening.
The other thing that happens when levels get too low is you set yourself for swinging to the other side – at an 8, 9, or 10 feeling stuffed because you waited too long to eat. Sound familiar? Many clients realize that this is a BIG piece of their struggle.
When can the Hunger Scale can be most helpful? If you struggle with overeating behaviors that lead to an 8 or above on the scale.
Basically at a 5, you are satisfied or neutral, not hungry and not full. So if you want to eat when you are at a 5, perhaps you’ve been emotionally, mentally or visually stimulated to want to eat food. Maybe you’re watching TV or are experiencing unchecked emotions. Avoid judgment and explore why you want to eat when your body isn’t physically asking for nourishment. This is a great opportunity to assess why you are wanting to distract or soothe yourself with food.
Before I practiced mindful eating skills, I would default to stress eating dry cereal, definitely more than I intended, when I was feeling overwhelmed. I didn’t connect the dots until I had been practicing mindful eating for awhile and then was under pressure to write the copy for my television segment in a very short amount of time. What did I need in that moment? Dry cereal!
I checked my hunger levels and was not hungry but said “ok, go ahead and eat this out of a bowl, as mindfully as possible while writing and do the best you can because you’re highly stressed and if this is what you need, let’s roll with it then measure out a serving and get to work.” So I gave myself permission, free will to stress eat but was PRESENT(ish) for the erratic eating “episode” that took place. Guess what? I wound up wiping out the box. I didn’t feel great and I needed the energy and mental focus to finish my script instead of struggling with fatigue. Valuable learning lesson. Very valuable.
The OTHER, perhaps even more important lesson, the mindful one, for me was recognizing that I missed out on the opportunity to fully enjoy my food. Talk about a low level of satisfaction! I’m a Taurus and I love, LOVE food. I thought, well if you’re going to give yourself permission to wipe out a box of your favorite cereal in one sitting, at least enjoy the taste of it!
And so that situation, where a) I gave myself permission to eat when I was stressed and not hungry and b) ate while distracted and highly stressed but also aware of what was going on internally + externally (introspective awareness) was such an incredible gift. To be present and connect all the learning lessons together helped me recognize that I didn’t want to move forward eating in that manner. That’s a powerful decision to make, to be in charge of your food decision making process instead of feeling like a slave to your habits.
When I am highly stressed and my brain thinks “dry cereal” now my rational, kind, compassionate brain says, “ok, you know what you are getting into based on past experience, do you really want to go down that path again my love? I seem to remember that it zapped your energy after wiping out the box without really tasting it (no judgment or calculating calories) and you realized that you prefer to enjoy the cereal while seated at the table and pay attention to how good it tastes, remember that? However, if you want to stress eat, you 100% can.”
The key is to always give yourself permission to eat. You always have that as an option. When you are dieting you are always saying NO to your favorite food. With mindful and intuitive eating, you have permission to say YES. The goal is to do it with awareness so that you can extract the wisdom nugget in every eating situation. It gets easier and more fun with practice so avoid beating yourself up because there is no messing up. You just learn and move onto the next meal or snack.
Let’s talk about when you are 4 or below, you might want to start thinking about what you want to eat. When you wait too long to eat (think a 2 or a 1), you can set ourselves up for overeating + making a not so great decision based on low blood sugar levels and the brain going into panic mode. Eating at a 3 or a smidge less is great because as my mentor says, “hunger is the best seasoning!” Don’t you agree? Food really tastes better when you are truly hungry!
Next step is setting intentional goals for fullness levels. If you tend to eat until you are a 10, perhaps shoot for an 8 or 9 before you start eating. You can say out loud to yourself, “I will stop eating when I am at a 9 today” to set that meal intention. If you reach a 10 take a step backwards and think about what could help you move down on the scale. Maybe you eat fast, take big bites, don’t chew your food well. All things we will explore during the challenge as we create more mindful eating skills.
Because I defaulted towards overeating tendencies, I actually worked with my post-meal fullness levels FIRST and then started working with my pre-meal hunger levels once I addressed my overeating behaviors. This might feel like the place for you to start if you know how you feel after your meals and are not able to truly tune into your hunger levels yet).
Notice that I didn’t refer to myself as an “overeat-ER” but having overeating habits. While it might sound picky, it’s important to avoid making this a personal attack on yourself. You likely have created this habits mindlessly and it will take a dose of compassion to rewire your current eating patterns. The other important thing to recognize is that my habits have shifted from eating really large meals to stopping when I am content or full (most of the time stopping at a 6 or 7 because I really don’t like feeling too full now unless I’m celebrating or just wind up eating a little distracted in social situations). Yes, this is possible (I didn’t believe it at first either) and we get into that further in the challenge.
Once you finesse the fullness scale to work for you, now you can start to rate your hunger/fullness levels half-way through your meals to connect yourself to your body and belly. This will help you identify where you are at mid-meal and enable you to pay attention to the subtle cues your belly gives you that you’re not dialed into quite yet. Once I started to slow down at meals, I was able to recognize my personal eating patterns.
Here’s something I didn’t expect to happen.
When I yawn during the meal and stop to assess my hunger levels, I realize that I am content. If I stopped eating after the yawn, I never felt uncomfortable or stuffed. But if I ignored the yawn and kept eating because it tasted good or I only had a couple of bites left, I always regretted it because I wound up overeating and feeling uncomfortable. In the past I used to hit a 10 on the fullness scale, and now I rarely get to a 7 unless it’s intentional. I never set out to have that as my eating goal, it just evolved naturally since I now, oddly enough, prefer feeling content instead of full or stuffed. I physically can’t get to a 10 anymore, not even at Thanksgiving. My old 10 is now my new 8. So you will finesse the hunger/fullness scale numbers as you practice this habit, I promise you that.
When I shared my yawn-during-the-meal discovery with a client of mine going through the challenge she said that her midwife told her to pay attention to when her infant yawned during breastfeeding. That was an indication that her child was “content.” Whether or not that is scientifically accurate, it seems to be the case for me. So start to pay attention to the subtle cues your body may be given you before, during, and after meals. You can start to see patterns and signs to help you work with your unique body instead of against it.
In full disclosure, as a young child I vascillated between chronic overeating and not eating anything at mealtimes. It used to drive my father *crazy* when I would refuse to order or eat anything while dining out. And the truth is, I was likely experiencing a lot of internal discomfort from my parents divorce coupled with adjusting to his new wife, my stepmother (we’re good now). P.S. I was only five years old. In college my unchecked depression led to eating at my emotions instead of dealing with them, which led to weight gain which led to depression which led to more overeating. It was a horrible cycle I couldn’t seem to get a grip on no matter what I did. And it became my uncomfortable normal.
It would take over a decade for me to finally get my relationship with food moving in a healthier direction and the mindset shift was crucial, absolutely essential. I stopped dieting (ugh that was a big trust… won’t I gain weight?!?). I let go of the yo-yo back and forth of being “good” and then really horrible cycle. Spiraling out of control when I was “off my diet” and doing more damage than I did good while on it. It showed in my face, on the scale and in my food choices. Dieting sets you up for that type of damaging behavior from the wrong mindset in so many ways. Restriction leads to overeating and overeating leads to more restriction. One cycle feeds the other so we have to break the cycles to heal and slowly, create an all foods fit philosophy.
Instead you have to make the decision to adopt a healthier lifestyle for life. That means delete the dieting mentality today, focus on creating long-term lifestyle nutrition and habits, then allow yourself to make mistakes and learn from them. You have to stop giving yourself permission to fall down that mental rabbit hole and spiral out of control just because you messed up. Do you see how that is dichotomous thinking? Black or white. Good or bad.
The reality is this. Big deal.
You can change your patterns if you really want to. Use that situation as an opportunity to step back and see how and why you fell into that trap. Then set personal Mindful Eating Guidelines (your MEGs) to prevent yourself from going down that road you know too well. Just take it one day at a time. One meal at a time. If you get “off track”, shake it off, learn from it and refocus for the next meal or snack. Not the next day, week, month, or year (total diet behavior). But the VERY. NEXT. MEAL.
Extract the lesson and learn from it.
Fail forward. Grow. Evolve.
You’re likely doing better than you give yourself credit for.
Replace making excuses with learning from each and every situation. Yes, this is going to take effort and making you a priority (ps you’re WORTH IT). When things feels stressful or overwhelming, breathe in the moment. Becoming aware of your breath will tell you more about your emotional well being more than anything else. I can’t stress the importance of focusing on your breath especially before meals to increase your awareness factor of what you are about to do. Eat. Nourish. Enjoy your food.
Ok MIT, today the focus is connecting with your hunger levels before you eat and/or satiety cues after you eat. People who already use the Hunger Scale can kick it up and use the scale during and after meals. Shoot for feeling content instead of full or stuffed. Find your personal “sweet spot” where you are no longer hungry and not stuffed or uncomfortable. Then hit repeat on whatever feels right for you as much as you can until becomes your new normal. This is all about honoring your true hunger and fullness factor.
Remember, we are a very fortunate nation. We are not struggling with famines. There is always enough food (actually a surplus). You will be able to eat at the next mealtime. If you struggle at a meal, just work backwards and try to identify the emotion, feeling or trigger that caused the disruption in your mindfulness. No judgment. Inject compassion, shake it off and get back on track for the next meal or snack. And yes, you can do this because you are better than you give yourself credit for!