How Knowing the 6 Stages of Hunger Can Help You Avoid Overeating

Obviously what you eat matters quite a bit, but so does how much you eat. I always say that if you simply eat a variety of whole foods (including plenty of veggies) AND listen to your body so you can stop eating when you feel full (which is easier said than done), then everything else should fall into place.

Learning how to listen to your body can take some practice though, especially when many of us have been trained to clean our plates instead. I’m not a fan of wasting food, but it’s hard to argue with one of my favorite Michael Pollan quotes, “Better to go to waste, than to waist.” I remind myself of this one often. It does help when I get to that last bite or two of something good but I know I am already feeling full.

So, I was intrigued by a recent article in Eating Well Magazine that shared some different stages of hunger because I think it can help us learn how to better listen to our bodies. Today I’m going to share their stages along with my thoughts about each and what to do as you experience each one. But before I dive in, does anyone else ever go from not hungry to “hangry” in a very short amount time like I do on occasion? Not fun!

How knowing the 6 stages of hunger can help you avoid overeating on 100 Days of Real Food


Six Stages of Hunger*

WHAT TO DO STAGES WHAT IT FEELS LIKE
Danger Zone: Avoid Overstuffed  We’ve all been here and it’s no fun. You somehow ate so much it’s hard to focus on anything other than how uncomfortable you feel. It’s to be expected that you might experience this stage on occasion, but if it’s a regular thing, there’s definitely some work to do when it comes to mindful eating.
Stop Eating Pretty Full You need to really pay attention to know when this stage arrives (or is about to arrive) and stop eating as soon as it does. It helps to take your time eating, avoid distractions (like the TV) while you’re eating, and start with smaller portions to avoid feeling the need to clean your plate (which is outdated advice)!
Avoid Automatic Eating Not Hungry or Full This stage is the most interesting of all to me. How often do you eat lunch simply because it’s noon and you’re sitting down with others, but if you think about it, you don’t actually feel that hungry? I’ve had this happen to me at dinner a few times, and just because I make a big meal for the family and we’re all sitting down to eat together doesn’t mean I need to automatically fill my plate. Sometimes I guess I might taste test a little too much while I’m cooking – oops!
Make a Plan Slightly Hungry No need to b-line it to your fridge or the closest buffet dinner, but when you feel the first sign of hunger, it’s great timing to make sure you have a healthy plan for your next meal and can put it into action soon. As I’ve said a million times before, “planning ahead is the key to avoiding processed food.” And ideally, I think it’d be great to know what your next meal will be even before you get to this stage. Also, as we learned from Kiran in her post about cravings, drinking water at this stage may help buy you some time as well.
Act Fast Noticeably Hungry Now the hunger pangs and stomach growling are in full effect and your concentration and mood might also be going south. I can absolutely relate to this! It’s the ideal time to go ahead and eat without having to wait any longer. Even if you take a few bites of a clean snack bar to tide you over, it’s better than waiting until the danger zone strikes.
Danger Zone: Avoid Starving & Ravenous (a.k.a. Hangry!) At this point you might feel light-headed or shaky (yep, been there too!) “When you put off eating until you’re famished, you’re more likely to eat anything and everything you can get your hands on—and do so quickly—which primes you to overeat,” says ­Michelle May, M.D., founder of Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Programs. As with the “Noticeably Hungry” stage, it helps to eat a little something to help clear your head first, before you find yourself clearing out the pantry and regretting it later.

*Reference: Eating Well Magazine

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9 thoughts on “How Knowing the 6 Stages of Hunger Can Help You Avoid Overeating”

  1. It’s so easy to overeat, especially with the portion sizes in America. To help prevent over eating when my husband and I dine out, we split one entree and a salad. We typically feel kinda hungry after dinner, but a 1/2 hour later we feel great and content. Great post!

  2. I have been trying to eat mindfully by chewing my food and putting down my fork between mouthfuls. It helps but I haven’t made it a real habit yet so will need to make another concerted effort. I get hangry and usually shovel food in to the point of feeling stuffed so I know I need to retrain myself.

  3. It’s so easy to let yourself get to the extremes! I struggle more with the ravenous stage than being overstuffed. Planning is key if I want to prevent myself (and my family) from becoming the hangry monster! Sometimes, I start cooking one meal shortly after finishing the last, just so I can keep it warm (ready) for the next meal!

  4. Michelle McClintock

    I’d like to download your chart for reference, but the sidebar advertising your sponsors is in the way. That’s very disappointing.

      1. Select what you would like to print and then click print, in your printer options you should have an option to print only what you’ve selected. This should print what you want without the advertisements.

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