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Healthy Eating: Recognizing Your Hunger Signals

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Your body sends natural signals that tell you when you're hungry and when you're full. But sometimes people get out of practice when it comes to paying attention to those signals. Learning to recognize those signals again can help you reach and stay at a weight that's healthy for you.

You can use a hunger rating scale to help you tune in to your natural signals. And keeping a food journal can help you understand your current habits. Then you can use what you learn from these tools to help you make choices about when and how much to eat.

How can you get back in touch with your hunger signals?

Understand your habits

Learning to recognize hunger signals can help you get to a healthy weight and stay there. You can start by figuring out the signals you now are following when you eat.

Use a hunger scale

A hunger scale can help you learn how to tell the difference between true, physical hunger and hunger that's really just in your head (psychological hunger). Psychological hunger is a desire to eat that is caused by emotions, like stress, boredom, sadness, or happiness.

When you sit down to a scheduled meal, stop and think about how hungry you are. If you feel less hungry than usual, make a conscious effort to eat less food than usual. Stop eating when you reach 5 or 6 on the scale.

Make healthy choices

Healthy eating is about balance, variety, and moderation. It starts with adding more fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and cutting back on foods that have a lot of fat, salt, and sugar. It means making changes you can live with and enjoy for the rest of your life.

Aim for balance.
Most days, eat from each food group—grains, protein foods, vegetables and fruits, and dairy. Listen to your body. Eat when you're hungry. Stop when you feel satisfied.
Look for variety.
Be adventurous. Choose different foods in each food group. For example, don't reach for an apple every time you choose a fruit. Eating a variety of foods each day will help you get all the nutrients you need.
Practice moderation.
Don't have too much or too little of one thing. All foods, if you eat them in moderation, can be part of healthy eating.

Credits for Healthy Eating: Recognizing Your Hunger Signals

Current as of: September 20, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff (
Clinical Review Board (
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

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