5 Ways to Recognize Your Hunger Signals

Hunger is the feeling that prompts thoughts of food and initiates eating.  It is influenced by many factors, including the presence or absence of nutrients in the bloodstream, the size and composition of the preceding meal, customary eating habits, climate, exercise, hormone levels, and illness.  Four hours after a meal, most of the food has left the stomach. Most people don't feel like eating again until their stomach is empty. 

According to Registered Dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, authors of Intuitive Eating: A Recovery Book for the Chronic Dieter, the first step to reclaiming the world of normal eating, free of diets and food worry, is to honor your biological hunger.   Before you can honor your hunger, you have to know how to listen to listen to it. The signals of hunger vary among people, so it's important that you know your individual signals.  Possible hunger sensations include these five ways to recognize your hunger signals:

1.      Mild gurgling or growling of the stomach

2.      Light-headedness (may progress to headache)

3.      Difficulty concentrating

4.      Irritability

5.      Feeling faint

A "hunger scale" can be useful to help you determine your hunger level. One hunger scale recommended by Registered Dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, includes a scale of 0 to 10, with 5 being right in the middle and indicating a neutral feeling where you are neither hungry nor full.  Zero is when you consider your stomach as being completely empty; 1 you're feeling ravenous, 2 you're completely hungry, 3 your hunger pangs are felt and 4 you're feeling the first slight signs of hunger.  On the fullness side, ten means you're feeling sick, 9 you're feeling stuffed, 8 you're feeling full, and 6 - 7 when you're feeling satisfied.

In their book, they point out that the longer you have been disconnected from your body's sense of fullness, the longer it will take to identify this point. Other tips they offer to increase your consciousness of fullness include:

  • Eat without distraction to help you enjoy your eating experience. In other words, eat mindfully, paying attention to your meal.
  • Reinforce your conscious decision to stop eating by putting your utensils down or putting your napkin on your plate or nudging your plate slightly forward.

Also, certain foods are more filling than others. Combining protein-rich foods such as fish, chicken, lean beef, and nuts with high fiber foods such as beans, whole grain breads, cereals, rice, and pasta and adding high water and high fiber foods such as raw fruits and veggies, salads, and soups also help increase satiety. 


1. Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. St. Martin's Press, NY, 1995.

2. Understanding Nutrition, Tenth Edition by Eleanor Noss Whitney and Sharon Rady Rolfes, Wadsworth Group, 2005