How to Listen to Your Body’s Hunger Cues

by Emily Harland, RDN, CSO, LDN

Last Updated: December 22, 2020

Listening to your own body’s hunger cues is a valuable component of intuitive eating, a style of eating that focuses on nurturing your body and making peace with food. In today’s fast-paced world, it can be difficult to get in tune with your body’s cues as we can easily be distracted by our emotions, factors in our environment, or even a social situation. When we lose touch with hunger and fullness, it’s easy to under or overeat. To eat more intuitively, it is important to reconnect with the wisdom of your own body. So, what exactly is a hunger cue, and how do you use it? Let’s dive in to find out more.

Signs of Physical Hunger
Understanding the subtle signs of hunger can help you become more aware of your body’s needs. Here are a few common signs that it may be time to eat:
  • Mood: thoughts shift to food, may feel irritable or cranky
  • Stomach: rumbling, growling, feels “empty”
  • Head: dizzy, faint, headache, difficulty focusing
  • Energy: tired, low energy

It is important to understand these signs of physical hunger as you do not want to become overly hungry, leading to overeating later/reduced physical stamina throughout your day. Many people find it helpful to use the hunger scale to aid in identifying physical hunger cues:

The Hunger-Satiety Scale
  1. Starving, no energy, very weak
  2. Very hungry, low energy, weak, and dizzy
  3. Uncomfortably hungry, distracted, irritable
  4. Hungry, stomach growling
  5. Starting to feel hungry
  6. Satisfied, but could eat a little more
  7. Full, but not uncomfortable
  8. Overfull, somewhat uncomfortable
  9. Stuffed, very uncomfortable
  10. Extremely stuffed, nauseous

How to use the hunger scale
Aim to begin eating when you reach a 3-4 on the hunger scale. By not waiting too long, it may be easier to tune in to your body’s needs and eat until you are satisfied, rather than becoming overly stuffed. If you are going to be on-the-go, try to keep nutritious snacks with you to help tide you over until your next meal. Some great snack choices could be freeze-dried fruit, snap peas & hummus, string cheese, or popcorn. When you are eating, aim to pause when you reach about a 6 or 7 on the hunger scale. You will often know when you are in this place when you start to slow down/feel some fullness when eating. It is okay if you do not finish your whole plate (but also completely okay if you do, listen to YOUR body!).

Why it is important to listen to hunger cues
Your hunger signals are your body’s way of telling you what it needs to feel and function at its best. This allows you to understand what works uniquely for your own body and accept that what works for your body may not be the same as someone else. This is why diets and strict plans do not work! There really is no one-size-fits-all approach for food, so it is important to work with a Registered Dietitian that can help you learn to tune into your own individual hunger cues so you can feel your best.

Intuitive eating is a great starting place for developing a stronger connection between mind and body. If you need additional help in identifying these cues for yourself and how to apply them in your life, contact one of our Kroger Health Dietitians today!

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.


Emily Harland, RDN, CSO, LDN

Emily Harland, RDN, CSO, LDN

Emily is a passionate clinical dietitian who strives to make nutrition changes sustainable while improving peoples’ relationship with food. She makes every effort to get to know each one of her clients on a personal level to ensure whole-person care. Emily is specialized in nutrition for oncology and cancer prevention/treatment. She has expertise from diabetes and heart health to hormonal health and fertility issues. Emily is an avid indoor cyclist and loves spending time in the kitchen cooking up nutritious and energizing meals.