Lose weight and keep it off by learning how to tell if you are truly hungry

  • 2 Minutes Read
Joanna Kriehn
Joanna Kriehn, MS, RDN, CDCES - Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES)

If you are not at your goal weight yet, you might need some clues to tell if you are hungry or when you reach fullness. Many of us eat (consciously or unconsciously) when we are not physically hungry and fail to stop eating when we are full.

Your body sends you hunger and fullness signals every day. However, if you haven't been paying attention, you may miss the subtle signs and end up starving or stuffed.

Learn the nuances around how to tell if you are hungry to better support weight loss and weight maintenance.

How to tell if you are hungry

Learn how to tell if you are hungry by checking your habits

When did you last eat?
Skipping meals can lead to feeling overly hungry. Getting too hungry makes it harder to make healthy choices and stick to your calorie budget.

Was your last meal or snack balanced?
The plate method shows you what a balanced meal looks like for weight loss.

How active have you been lately?
If you recently started a new fitness routine, you may have noticed an increase in appetite. Learn more about the connection between appetite and exercise here.

Are you getting enough sleep?
Inadequate sleep is known to increase appetite. To learn more about the connection between sleep and weight, click here.

Emotional hunger vs. physical hunger: how to tell the difference

Keeping track of what, when, and how much you are eating can help you learn the difference between head hunger and true physical hunger. Pay attention to your patterns and identify times when you might be turning to food out of stress, boredom, an energy boost, and so forth.

Food tracking tips from an experienced registered dietitian

In addition to recording what you eat, when, and how much, reflect on your emotional state and record what you were doing before eating. MyNetDiary tracker makes this easy to do using the Notes feature.

Unsure if you are physically hungry? Try the 4D's test

Hunger and fullness scale

Another way to help you decide if you are physically hungry is to rate your hunger and fullness on a scale of 1 to 10. There's no right or wrong answer, and you'll likely find your ratings differ from day-to-day.

  1. Starving, famished
  2. Really hungry, tired, weak, difficulty concentrating
  3. Stomach growling
  4. Somewhat hungry, starting to think about food occasionally
  5. Neither hungry nor full-feeling neutral-like don't need to eat
  6. Feeling somewhat full, feeling satisfied
  7. Feeling full, don't have to eat more, but could eat more
  8. Full
  9. Uncomfortably full-need to unbutton pants
  10. Painfully full-nauseous or sick. Need to lie down

Aim to stay in a 3-7 range on the above hunger/fullness scale when you decide to eat and stop eating.


Feeling hungry isn't a bad thing. In fact, it is a good idea to feel hunger between meals. Hunger can be a positive sign that you are not overdoing-it at meals or overeating throughout the day, which would make it harder to lose weight.

Reach for healthy snacks when you are feeling a 3 on the hunger scale

Keeping ready-made snacks near you in anticipation of hunger will help retrain your brain and body to only eat when hungry and stop when satisfied. Keep fresh fruits on your kitchen counter, or carry a small bag of nuts in your purse or glove compartment. When your body says it's time to eat, you'll be ready with a nutritious snack.

Dietitian-approved snacks

Quick and easy snacks between 50-200 calories

Immune boosting snacks with key nutrients identified

Ten smart snack ideas that you may not have considered

Feeling hungry is your body's way of saying it needs fuel. However, if you have struggled with dieting for many years, you may not recognize the subtle signs of fullness or when to tell if you really need "fuel." Paying attention to what you eat and tracking your hunger and fullness can set you on an educational path towards learning your body's satiating rhythms and what it needs. With a bit of practice, the clues will help you lose weight and keep it off for the long haul.

Additional resources

Tips for feeling full when cutting calories
Soothe yourself without food

Still new to MyNetDiary? Learn more today by downloading the app for FREE.

Weight Loss->Appetite & Satiety
Mar 23, 2021

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