Wouldn’t it be great if your stomach was equipped with a visual gauge, similar to the gas gauge in your car? That way your body would tell you exactly how many calories you need in order to gain, lose or maintain your weight. That’s exactly what most diet programs aim to do. They act as an external gas gauge and tell you when to fill the tank, what to fill it with and how soon to come back to the tank again.
Diet plans provide a template of how, what and when to eat, but they are regimented. It’s possible to develop an internal, virtual type of gas gauge for you to sense hunger that is more flexible.
The ability to feel hunger and fullness is a sensation that you were born with.81 So in a sense, you were born with a gauge. As you mature, this ability sometimes goes awry—you learn to ignore it, confuse it with thirst or emotion and may eventually forget it altogether. It becomes too hard to see or sense the gauge so you rely on external templates, like diets, to perform the function of the gauge.
There is a tool that can help you tune into your hunger and fullness gauge so you don’t overfill your belly or wait too long to eat between meals. You can actually train yourself to tune into your ability to feel hunger and fullness by visualizing a Hunger Scale.12,82-83
You can obtain a virtual fuel gauge through practice and development of a new skill. The tank I want you to envision is your incinerator, your stomach. Imagine a meter ranging from 0–10, with 0 being empty and 10 being so full it’s actually bulging. While everyone has their own definitions, physical experiences and symptoms of what hunger and fullness feel like, there are some generalities.
There are varying degrees of hunger. You might be really hungry or only a little hungry. If you are a little hungry and want to eat, this would be a time to have half of a fist-sized portion of protein and a corresponding half fist of carbohydrate.
A situation in which you might find this helpful is when you are dining with others. Suppose you’re meeting friends for dinner in a couple of hours, but you’re hungry now. Not hungry enough to eat a full fist of protein and a full fist of carbohydrates, but hungry enough not to want to wait. And you don’t want to feel like eating your dinner mates as you look over a menu! This would be a time to have a smaller portion of protein and carbohydrate; think of a half fist of each.
12. Herbert B, Blechert J, Hautzinger M, Matthias E, Herbert C. Intuitive eating is associated with interoceptive sensitivity. Effects on body mass index. Appetite. 2013;70:22-30.
81. Tribole E, Resch E. Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works. 3rd ed. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press; 2012: 220.
82. MIT Medical. Hunger scale. https://medical.mit.edu/sites/default/files/hunger_scale.pdf.
83. Omichinski L. You Count, Calories Don’t. London, UK: Hodder & Stoughton; 1996.