Catch Your Perfect Hunger Wave!

Well, this week was full of revelations!  Remember in my post When Knowledge Is Not Enough I was saying how much I already know about fitness and nutrition, but just can’t put all this knowledge in action?  Well, I got humbled this week and realized that there is SO MUCH I still didn’t know!

Hunger comes in waves.

For example, did you know that hunger came in waves?  I didn’t!  Yet that is a critical piece of information for anyone hoping to get their eating to a level they can enjoy and feel healthy at the same time.

Not only does it come in waves, but each wave comes in at a different intensity!

This is how it works:

The first inkling that you might want to eat comes in at about a 1 or 2, right?

If you ignore it, it goes away! And it’s not like you get yourself distracted so you don’t notice hunger anymore. No. It actually stops and you don’t feel hungry anymore until the next wave. Did you know that?  I sure did not. Maybe i did know, but I just didn’t think about it in those terms. It’s possible.

Then the next wave rustles ashore at about 2 or 3 and says “remember how you were going to eat something? yeah…I could still eat something”.  Guess what.  You can ignore this one too.  I mean, don’t ignore it completely.  Acknowledge it.  Say something like “Oh hey, yeah, I heard you last time.  No worries, we’ll eat eventually”.  And go about your business again and it will go away!

I don’t know about you, but for me, this was revolutionary!

No need to panic. Yet.

Another thing I’ve learned is that we don’t really need to action these hunger waves, until they come in at about a 7.  Level 7 is when you want to actually sit down and eat. Serve yourself a delicious nutritious meal, and start eating it slowly.  Level 7!!

That means that a hunger wave can come and go about FIVE times before I need to do anything about it!

This knowledge to me is so liberating!

I used to panic at the first sign of hunger!  OMG! I’m getting hungry!  I’m going to need to eat soon!  What if there’s no food around?  What if I don’t eat on time?  And on and on, until I hunt down a giant plate of something and scarf it all down quickly to make the hunger go AWAY! And meanwhile, that wave was only a 3 or 4.  Maybe.

Now I know, that if I just wait, that wave will go away, and I will probably have a good hour to an hour and a half before I really need to eat.  Plenty of time!  Plenty of opportunity to cook something, buy something nutritious, drink water, go for walk, get some work done, whatever.  It’s not a panic.

Mind blown!!

Going to level 8 and beyond.

I’ve also discovered that when I start eating at hunger wave level 7 and eat slowly, I can adequately gauge my fulness levels as I eat and I can stop once I’ve had enough.  Not inhale my food and wonder where it all went in about thirty seconds. No.  Eat slowly and mindfully, tasting each bite and enjoying the sensation, and recognize the fullness cues about half way through the meal.

And I’ve discovered what happens if you keep waiting once that level 7 wave crashes in.  The couple of times that I went past level 7 and into level 8 or 9 category, all bets were off. Lol.  At level 8 panic hits faster than you can say “I’m hungry”.

8 and beyond is “Ohmergeeerd! I am HUNGRY!! I need to eat NOW and a LOT! I am entering starvation mode and need to eat extra so I don’t feel that way ever again!” At this level it’s almost impossible to eat slowly and check in with your hunger levels so you can stop once you’ve had enough.

Yeah, I try not to get to that level.  If I’m at level 7 and there’s no chance for a meal, I have a small snack, eat it slowly, and take the edge off.  Then I go about the business of preparing a meal.

Learn your hunger wave levels

I strongly encourage you to try and assign a strength value to your hunger waves for the next few days.  You might discover that you’ve never known that they come in so many levels!

I’ve discovered that I am not familiar with any levels of hunger between 3 and 9.  So had no idea what level 7 (recommended level at which to start eating) felt like.  I only knew two levels: “I could eat now” and “I’m ravenous and will die if I don’t eat.”

I’m working on closing that gap.  Every time I get a hunger signal, I sit with it for a while. I look at it in my mind’s eye and I ask questions about it.  Is it here to stay? What is the level?

I’ve found that hunger signals are similar to labour contractions.  If you’ve ever given birth you’ll know what I’m talking about.  And if you haven’t, I’ll explain what I mean.  At first they are week and sporadic, coming and going with no real impact on you.  As they get stronger, they also start coming closer to each other until eventually there’s one big hunger wave, which is not stopping and is getting stronger rapidly.  I think that’s when level of intensity is just past 7 and starts approaching 8 and beyond.  The trick is to learn to catch it just before then.

This week in Precision Nutrition

This week we started working on a new habit.  Stopping eating when at 80% full.

The key to practicing this habit is: a) Eating Slowly, and b) Monitoring the hunger levels, as I’ve described above.

Now, hunger and fullness are not exactly scientific measurements so it’s hard to hit 80% exactly.  At this point of time, I am just focusing on eating less than I normally would.

I’ve reduced my portion size, knowing from earlier weeks that eating slowly means I fill up on less food.  And even with reduced portions, I still find that I get to about half point of my meal, when I no longer feel hungry.

I have also realized that going from 120% fullness to 80% is a tall order for just one week.  I haven’t been able to stop at 80% yet.  For now I stop at 100% and try stopping just a bit earlier than I normally would.  If I try stopping sooner, I still get this panicked feeling of “this can’t be enough food!”  As it is, this exercise has reduced the amount of food I eat by at least a half, and that’s huge!  I’m super proud of myself!

I’ve been eating much less and not suffering at all! And this is important! Because I am not one to suffer when it comes to eating.  If suffering is involved, I simply won’t do it.  So this lack of great discomfort is a sure sign for me that I am on the right track!

Next Week

Next week we will be continuing with the 80% habit and probably going in a bit deeper with hunger awareness and mindfulness.

I will also write about my challenges with workouts in the past weeks and what I am doing to move through them.

Share your experiences with hunger levels in the comments below and remember to visit and like my Facebook Page!




2 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Another tool to the box of healthy life.. so don’t panic and run to reach the food once you are hungry, well, kind of hungry 🙂 and once let yourself, – enjoy slow.. and not until you completely full… it’s a lot of self discipline involved, how you are managing your craving for food, don’t you have it? I’m still struggling with eating fast, especially when eating alone! And dessert, after you are 80% full, are you letting yourself a bit of desert too?
    I like your concept of dealing with hunger waves .. will try to think about food with humor on first couple of waves, thank you!..
    warm regards

    1. Hi Luba,
      Sometimes I eat dessert first! Or instead 😉 Or make sure I leave some room if I know I’m going to have dessert.

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