Monday, 7 February 2011

Eat when you are hungry: Gretel's Hunger Scale

Gretel Hallet is a Chocolate Fairy and writes a lot on this blog. Her next workshop is in Norwich on 9th April  If you live in the area and want to find out more about Beyond Chocolate, Gretel would love to hear from you!  Meet Gretel

I have realised recently that I have become very ‘comfortable’ in my relationship with Beyond Chocolate.  I am not dieting, not even considering dieting, but I’m also not really ‘doing’ Beyond Chocolate either. 

Let me illustrate this with a little anecdote:

The other evening I ate when I was really quite hungry.  I hadn’t reached the stage where I turned into a frenzied whirlwind in the kitchen, the centrifugal force of my hunger attracting every edible thing in sight.  But I was getting there.  And I was cooking.  And I didn’t snack and I didn’t keep ‘tasting’ either.  By the time I sat down to eat the results, I was very hungry and the food tasted wonderful.

This made me review my other eating opportunities over the last few days, weeks, months … I realised that much of the time I wasn’t actually hungry when I ate.  I was eating because it was lunch-time, or because everyone else in my family was hungry and I had cooked a meal, or because I was no longer feeling full up.

These are all perfectly reasonable occasions on which to eat, but for me they are far less satisfying than when I eat from a point of hunger.  This is the point behind the Beyond Chocolate principle ‘Eat When You Are Hungry’.  It sounds like a truism, but if we are honest, how many times in a day do we eat when we’re not actually hungry?

It’s a choice we make every day, several times a day … if I eat now, will I be hungry later?  If I don’t eat now, will I be so ravenous that I’ll make a fool of myself at the buffet?  How do I know if I’m hungry or if it’s just a Pavlovian reaction to lunch-time or cream-cakes?

There are some ways through this maze that are tried and tested, others you may wish to discover for yourself.  One of the tools I’ve used is a ‘hunger scale’.  There are details in the Beyond Chocolate book, but briefly I monitored myself over the course of several days to see what happened at various stages of hunger and I noted them down.

For example; the first symptom of impending hunger I get is restlessness, so I allocated that a number on a scale going from 1-5 (initially, it later expanded to 0 – 8!), and carried on observing.  I know that when I over-eat I feel as though I have actually expanded several inches widthways, and that I am mentally sluggish and emotionally upset.  So I gave that a number too, and kept on observing until I had a full scale which showed me the stages I went through from ‘stuffed to bursting’ to ‘Don’t stand between me and the food’.

This was helpful because I could then choose whether I wanted to eat at that point where I got restless or whether actually I’d prefer to wait until I reached, ‘If I don’t eat soon I’m going to get crabby’ (for example).  I know from experience that I get more enjoyment out of the food if I do wait past those first signals and that I am probably in a better position to judge when I’ve had enough and to stop (that’s a whole other topic, though!). 

So, having realised that I’ve become laissez-faire with Beyond Chocolate, it’s time to mix metaphors and pull my socks up and get back to basics and focus again on my relationship with food and not just let myself drift on in this unfocussed way.  I know it’s worth it and that I’m worth it!


  1. A parallel of my life! I'm going to try that too! starting with 5 on the scale - the feeling that if i eat any more it will start coming out of my ears...thanks Gretel, I might be able to get back on track too now...

  2. I've got my own scale too - it ranges from 'I'm about to faint from lack of food' to 'I feel like I don't need to eat for a week'.

    So glad i'm not the only one!

  3. Good for you both - I have found the hunger scale very useful and will be using it for a while until I'm back on track again.

  4. I just need to get a better grip on that whole hunger feeling and understand the difference between real hunger and that feeling of "I need that walnut whip and I need it now" they are two different things altogether!!!

  5. Hi Susan, good to hear from you!
    That urge for a walnut whip is one that's very familiar to me - I love them! When I get the urge, I sometimes take a moment to see whether the urge has occurred because of some emotional upset or boredom or whether it's just a case that right now I want a walnut whip ... depending on what I discover, I either eat the walnut whip, or spend another moment deciding whether it would actually help right now or is there something else I need to do to support myself. I find that helps me. Good luck with finding what helps you.


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