“Counting calories is my jam. So much fun. Super easy to stick with.”
– Said No One. Ever.
Okay, before I dive in, let me start by saying…counting calories DOES work for some people! So why am I knocking it then?? Because. Rarely does someone count calories for a lifetime. Can you imagine?? How exhausting. And counting calories puts the emphasis on a tiny part of the nutrition picture – food in, energy out. It does not prioritize quality, tuning into one’s body, or enjoying the human experience of nourishing your body. All of which are necessary for long-term weight maintenance.
And given that counting calories is often a short-term solution, it makes sense that about 85% of individuals who lose weight on “diets” or short-term strategies like this one return to or exceed their initial weight within a few months to a couple years. The reality is that your healthy lifestyle does not have an expiration date. It is a lifestyle. It’s for your LIFE.
So hear me out…there is something that works better and is much easier to sustain. It’s so simple. And you have it on your person at all times…no apps, websites, pen, or paper needed.
Introducing…your Hunger-Fullness Scale!
Using your Hunger-Fullness Scale creates mindfulness around your:
- Body’s physical hunger signals
- Nutrition choices
- Eating experience, in general
It prevents reaching either extreme. When you are starving and feeling weak, your physiology is going to kick in at the next meal or when you are in front of food next. You are more likely to overeat or choose quick calories like sugar and poor-quality, convenience foods. This can overeating can push us to the other end of the scale very quickly.
In the opposite regard, the Hunger-Fullness Scale reminds us that food is meant to nourish. Eating until you are overfull or stuffed is eating past the point of nourishment. And it means your body now has to digest and metabolize way too much food at one sitting, which ultimately, leads to weight gain.
The Hunger-Fullness Scale also requires us to be mindful of whether we are eating due to actual physical signals versus emotional ones. [We will talk about this in the next post in this Weight Management Series…stay tuned!]
So how do you use this thing?
Ideally, you want to stay between 3-6. To do this, it is important to stop, tune into your body, and ask yourself questions throughout the day.
Throughout the day and BEFORE reaching for a snack or beginning a meal, ask yourself:
- How am I feeling right now?
- Is my body asking for food? Or am I bored/sad/anxious/stressed/etc.? [Hint: When you are emotionally hungry, you may be craving or wanting a specific food. When you are physically hungry, any food will suffice. Stay tuned for a post that dives deeper into this.]
- If I am hungry, how hungry am I? What healthy foods would satisfy my hunger?
- What is an appropriate portion of food to satisfy my hunger?
During a meal or snack (about 10-15 minutes in), set down your utensils and ask yourself (these are especially helpful when out to eat):
- How and I feeling right now?
- Am I still truly hungry? [Hint: It takes approximately 15-20 minutes for the signals from our stomach to reach our brain and let us know that we are full. It is very easy to eat past this point!]
- Am I satisfied? If I took a break for a few moments, would I feel satisfied?
- If I take another bite, will I feel overly full or stuffed?
- Am I taking more bites or handfuls because the food is there or because I am truly hungry?
For many of us, the day goes by without ever checking in with ourselves. If this feels like a new concept to you, I suggest setting up some external reminders to get tuned in. A couple ways you can do this include:
- Setting up a recurring reminder on your phone, a couple times per day
- Block off 5 minutes on your work calendar to check in and ask “How am I feeling right now?”
- Put a reminder post-it in a highly visible place
- Print off this Hunger-Fullness Scale and post it on your refrigerator or pantry (PDF here: Degrees of Hunger & Fullness)
A Few Caveats
Now that I have sold you on tuning into your Hunger-Fullness Scale, I need to mention a few caveats, or loopholes, if you will. Even the strongest of tools don’t work if not used appropriately.
There are foods that are not going to necessarily fill you up but they will contribute significantly to your overall calorie intake. But creating awareness around them doesn’t require us to count calories. There are some alternative questions to ask about these foods – dessert, sugar-sweetened beverages, fried foods, dressing and other condiments, chips/crackers, etc.
- Am I physically hungry? Or am I bored/sad/anxious/stressed/etc.? [Hint: Again, when you are emotionally hungry, you may be craving or wanting a specific food. When you are physically hungry, any food will suffice. Stay tuned for a post that dives deeper into this.]
- If I am going to enjoy it, how much do I need to be satisfied? [Hint: Try the three-bite rule for desserts. And savor. Every. Last. Bite. All three of them, that is.] Overtime, you will find with these rich foods, that a little goes a long way.
- Is there a healthier alternative that could be just as satisfying? [Hint: This is a helpful question for choosing appetizers. Upgrade from fried to fresh, baked, broiled, or steamed.]
- Is there a way that I could get more bang for my buck with this? [Hint: For condiments like salad dressing, ketchup, and BBQ sauce, try enjoying a small amount on the side and dipping your fork with each bite. A little will go a long way!]
Stay tuned for the next article in this Weight Management series that will help you to identify the difference between emotional and physical hunger and make better choices accordingly!