Eat with Freedom by Honoring Hunger and Fullness

Katie Delaney, RD, CSOWM, Take Control Health Coach

Do you find yourself frequenting the kitchen more often, skipping meals, or eating while watching TV? Afterwards you feel full, frustrated and maybe even somewhat hopeless? You are not alone. Overeating and snacking may be filling a void of boredom or other emotions. There are many factors that lead to over indulging. Whatever your reason is, there are solutions.    

The following strategies can help shed light on overeating and mindless snacking. Use these as a guide to check-in with yourself. Again these tips are a guide, it is important to honor what your body needs without being too rigid.

Dial in on Hunger Cues

Are you aware when your body is telling you it’s hungry? Hunger cues are not the same for everyone and waiting for stomach growling may lead to overeating.  Hunger can feel a bit different for everyone.

Signs include:

• Growling stomach

• Mild gurgling or gnawing in the stomach

• Light-headedness

• Difficulty concentrating

• Uncomfortable stomach pain

• Nausea

• Headache

• Feeling Faint

• Irritable (“hangry”)

Take a day or two (or longer) and track what number or level you are at for hunger and fullness when eating.  Take note of any hunger cues (as mentioned above) to provide more awareness of what physical hunger feels like. A helpful next step which may change when and how often to eat.  

Tip: Start a meal or snack when you are lightly to moderately hungry (level 4 and 3 on hunger scale) to stay ahead of ravenous eating cycles, end your meal/snack feeling satisfied, not stuffed or sick.

Refer to the Hunger & Fullness Scale when you need to check in with yourself.

Limit Distractions

When the focus is not on food during a meal, it is easy to overeat. Carve out time each day for meals, allow your body to focus on eating, enjoy your meal, and becoming more aware of fullness.

Tip: Make a goal to eat at least one meal per day without distraction. Pay attention to satiation (fullness cue), and become aware of how satisfied you are over the course of the meal.

Slow Down

Put your fork down between bites, focus on savoring each mouthful. Eating too quickly does not allow time for the stomach to tell your brain you are full -- which can take 5 to 20 minutes. Eating too quickly will lead to overeating, and by the time your body tells you it’s full, you have already over-indulged.

Tip: Set a timer for 20 minutes during your next meal, and see how long it usually takes you to eat. At what point do you notice fullness? Refer to hunger & fullness scale above.

Eat Frequently and Stay Hydrated

Skipping meals, going long periods of time without eating, and dehydration may lead to regular overeating. Set a daily reminder for meals, snacks, and refilling your water bottle.  Make a meal plan that will keep you fueled and feeling satisfied. Keep your water glass or water bottle visible, as a reminder to stay hydrated.

Tip: link drinking water with an everyday task. For example during your morning routine, incorporate 16 oz to start your day off. When you’re well-hydrated, your food choices and portions will be a lot healthier and satisfying.  

Have a Plan

Access to tempting foods or beverages on a daily basis at the office or at home may be an invitation to graze throughout the day. Knowing this in advance, think about how you will feel afterwards- satisfied, full, uncomfortable, guilty - before grabbing tempting foods. Think about how you would feel you chose NOT to have it? This is not an all-or-nothing approach. Again, a guide. You will say “yes” on occasion, and this is okay. But overtime, you will probably find yourself saying “no” a lot more than “yes.”

Be Mindful

During stress-related events, cortisol levels in your body increases, which can increase appetite. Whether you are hungry or not, you may find yourself on the search for something to fill that hunger. Check-in with yourself before you grab something -- “Am I actually hungry, why am I on the search? Is it from boredom, stress, tiredness, emotion?” What about self-care -- are you taking care of your needs?


Are you getting enough sleep? Lack of sleep can increase your appetite. What can you improve in your bedtime routine? Set a reminder for when to start preparing for bed, turn off electronics, check-in with yourself, and at a specific time, add breathing exercises before bed, or meditate.

Challenge yourself! Add one of these tips into your regimen. Once it becomes a habit, add another. Make sure to check-in with your health coach for continued support.