Scottsdale Weightloss Center

How Much Should I Eat: Using a Hunger Scale


Craig Primack MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA,
Diplomate, American Board of Obesity Medicine

As you progress through your weight loss program, one of the most important questions you can ask is, “how much should I eat?” Or “when should I stop eating,” sometimes “have I eaten enough?” It seems like a simple question, but it’s not. Sometimes we’re hungry when we eat, other times we eat because our plate is full.

As a general rule in the US, when someone asks you “when do you stop eating?” the answer is likely, “when I am full.” Maybe full is too much. Maybe we should stop when we’re satisfied. Maybe like in some cultures, about 90% full is just right.

Understanding your hungry and being mindful of your eating patterns is a great skill to have during your weight loss program. You have to decide, am I really hungry? Or am I bored, tired, or stressed? Am I happy, sad, or is it Taco Tuesday? Once you determine that you’re hungry, it doesn’t come naturally to gauge how much hunger you have.

Hunger Scale for weight loss diagram

How to Use a Hunger Scale

We recommend practicing gauging your hunger on a hunger scale. On a hunger scale, you ask, “How hungry am I?” 10 is the worst hunger you’ve ever had, and zero no hunger at all. It doesn’t come easily or naturally to use a hunger scale. But they do help determine how much we should eat.

Consider using a hunger scale three times during a meal:

  1. When you first sit down at the table, before you have eaten even your first bite of food
  2. When you’re about halfway through with your meal.
  3. When you’re at the end of your meal or toward the end of what should be a normal meal portion-size.

The easiest way to describe how much you should eat is when your hunger is about 8 out of 10. At eight, you should feel hungry enough to eat but you are not starving. Consider eating your hunger down to about three or four when you feel satisfied enough to not eat.

Practice Grading Hunger

Grading our hunger doesn’t happen in the standard diet and it doesn’t come easy to us. It takes practice until you get proficient at it. Next time you’re about to eat, ask yourself these questions:

How much should I eat?
Why am I eating?
When should I stop?
Am I bored, stressed, or celebrating?

Remember, it’s best to grade your hunger at the beginning, middle, and near the end of your meal.

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