How to balance hunger + fullness and stop overeating



Imagine it’s 7am. You’re getting the kids ready for school, packing lunches, serving up breakfast, curling your hair, doing your makeup, getting yourself ready for work. It’s a busy morning and you woke up a bit late so you chug your coffee and run out the door. You realize you’re really hungry after you’re done school drop-off but you still have another stop that morning so you roll through the drive through for a second cup of coffee and snack on an apple in line. It’s healthy, so it works, right? This keeps you feeling ok for another hour or so, but you feel yourself getting hungrier and hungrier, but you’re running errands and have no time to stop. You glance at the clock, 10am. It’s not time for lunch, but… you rifle through your back and pull out a little portion-controlled bag of almonds. You can’t trust yourself having a full bag lying around. You gobble them down, barely tasting them, annoyed that they don’t even touch your hunger. THAT WAS A PORTION, DANGIT! Don’t almonds have healthy fat and protein and all that jazz? But you have more work to do, errands to run, so you move on with your day until your stomach is growling so hard, you have to take a break for lunch. You grab a salad with some grilled chicken and low-fat dressing, the healthy choice, and you eat it up. It’s ok. You’re still hungry, but you ate, so you’ll wait until snack time to eat. By the time 3 rolls around, you’re digging in the snack cabinet for something sweet. You’re trying to be good, but you’re SO HUNGRY you feel like a little brownie from the break room won’t hurt. You have a couple bites and it’s SO GOOD. You feel guilty, so you stop there, knowing dinner is only a couple hours away. By the time you get home from school pick up and after school activities, you feel like you can’t even control your hunger. WHY HAVE YOU BEEN HUNGRY ALL DAY?! You have a glass of wine while you cook dinner, waiting for the big meal. You enjoy dinner with your family, shoving the food down your throat, barely tasting it, cleaning your plate because that’s what you do at dinner-- and it keeps you full for a while, but after the kids have gone to bed and you’re watching TV, those cravings come up again. You head to the snack cabinet for a couple cookies. You eat them, but you’re still hungry- so it’s ok if you have more. You have another two. Not hungry any more, but you’ve already had FOUR COOKIES- gah! What is wrong with me? I was good all day and now I blew it. Might as well eat the rest of the sleeve and start over again tomorrow. You mindlessly finish the sleeve and head to bed, over-full and uncomfortable.


Have you ever had a similar experience? I know this is a dramatization, but for many of us, it’s not far off. We try and make so-called ‘good’ choices all day long, letting outside cues or circumstances dictate our eating- either we ignore our hunger because we’re rushed, we choose what we deem to be the healthy option over the satisfying one (we don’t realize both is possible), we stick to allotted portions even if we’re more hungry than that, we don’t allow ourselves to eat to fullness at a meal- or unintentionally overeat because it’s in front of us, and we’re really hungry-- denying ourselves satisfaction based on the rules we’ve outlined for foods and making excuses for overeating-- often times as a result from restriction- intended or otherwise, all day long.



So why don’t we honor our hunger and fullness?


For many of us, not honoring hunger comes out of fear or learned behaviors, rooted from lack of trust in our bodies.


We fear if we eat any time we are hungry, we’ll eat all the time (or we’ll eat too much) and this is rooted in the fear that our hunger is insatiable- which is what it can feel like when we never properly honor it by eating to fullness.


We learned, growing up, that our bodies; and our hunger; can’t be trusted- we think there is something wrong with us for being hungry, or that we simply need to learn a complex system of portions, points, or macros in order to eat what our bodies need.


We learned, growing up, that our bodies; and our hunger; can’t be trusted- we think there is something wrong with us for being hungry, or that we simply need to learn a complex system of portions, points, or macros in order to eat what our bodies need.

But our bodies aren’t calculators, there is no mathematical equation that can better tell us what our bodies need, other than our bodies. For those of us who have tended to over-eat as a habit, it’s not a lack of understanding of portion sizes, it’s a lack of trust and alignment with our body’s signals. Once we begin to tune into our bodies signals, eat when we are truly physically hungry, most of the time, and honoring our fullness (which does take time to learn, but is possible) we start to eat just what our bodies need at the time. Which is sometimes more, and sometimes less.


But our bodies aren’t calculators, there is no mathematical equation that can better tell us what our bodies need, other than our bodies. For those of us who have tended to over-eat as a habit, it’s not a lack of understanding of portion sizes, it’s a lack of trust and alignment with our body’s signals.

Rather than relying on a clock, portions or an app to tell us when and how much to eat, we learn what foods feel good in our bodies, what a satisfying plate looks like for us, and hunger isn’t something to be managed or avoided, it’s something to be honored.



What happens if we don’t honor our hunger?


Diet culture, and often our own internal stories, turn hunger into a symptom that needs to be avoided or managed. When really, the type of hunger that results when we avoid it, is the type of hunger that is much HARDER to manage, or try and control, than the easy type of hunger that comes on slowly, that we begin to recognize and honor in intuitive eating. Over-hunger, resulting from lack of adequate energy from food, or carbohydrates throughout the day, results in a primal drive to over-eat, and moderation goes out the window. It’s impossible to learn to self-moderate, when we’re not tuning into ourselves in the first place.


Where we might think ignoring our hunger or putting it off as long as possible is ‘saving us’ calories, it often leads us to eating more than our bodies need, and this can be a vicious cycle that continues again and again.


Where we might think ignoring our hunger or putting it off as long as possible is ‘saving us’ calories, it often leads us to eating more than our bodies need, and this can be a vicious cycle that continues again and again.


Why is it important to honor our hunger?


Hunger is not something to be ignored, avoided, managed or feared. Being hungry simply means your body is on E, and you need a re-fuel. The ONLY way to re-fill your body’s need for fuel is with food. The type and amount we will learn with time and will change according to our needs at that meal or snack, but ultimately, if your gas tank is empty, water is not going to keep you going. You need proper fuel to function well.


Hunger is a biological need, not a nuisance. You wouldn’t ignore your body’s need to pee- another urgent biological need-- you can only put it off for so long-- the same thing with hunger.


Learning to honor your hunger as a biological need is the first step to re-building trust in your body and uncomplicating eating.


Honoring hunger means:

  • You are less likely to overeat and more likely to eat just what you need

  • You prove to your body that you trust it, each time you honor your hunger

  • You can more easily honor fullness; which is harder to notice when we are excessively hungry (and is sometimes physically halted due to the survival mechanism we mentioned above, triggering a consistent desire to over-eat).



How do we begin to honor our hunger?


When you are beginning to feel hungry, ask yourself:

  • Where do you feel the physical sensations of hunger in your body? Is it an emptiness or growling in your stomach? Maybe a subtle feeling in your throat? Maybe a felt sense of sleepiness or lethargy? A mild headache? Sometimes there are no sensations at all, just a feeling of starting to think about food.

  • Are you feeling effects on mood, ability to focus & concentrate, or overall energy?


Before your next meal or snack, connect with your body & ask yourself about your experience of your hunger—does it feel: pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral? If it was unpleasant, what might you do differently the next time you eat (maybe you didn't eat enough, your meal wasn't balanced, etc).


Try to approach your hunger with a compassionate curiosity – there are no wrong answers here! This is an ongoing practice and you don’t usually ‘get it’ in one day. It takes time- and this is ok!


I want to encourage you, here, as well, that you’re not going to be doing exercises like this forever. This is part of the process of removing the layers that complicate eating so eating feels easy, less stressful, and natural again.


Noticing the nuances of hunger is key to re-gaining or re-recognizing signals that have been lost or ignored. You can use the hunger and fullness scale to help you identify a range of hunger and fullness that feels comfortable and satisfying, to you.




The scale has a range from 1-10, with 5 being neutral, not hungry, not full and 1 being so ravenous you’re almost sick-- 10 being so full, you’re sick (binge-full).


You might begin to notice hunger at a 2 or 3 if it’s been a long time, since you recognized your hunger. 3 is hungry, your stomach is growling, your body needs energy. 2 is EXTREMELY hungry, you might have a headache, be irritable, moody, have a knawing emptiness in your stomach- many clients describe this as being ‘hangry’. But really ideally, you’ll want to begin to learn to recognize hunger at a 4, or even a 3. Once you get to the 2 level, it’s hard to stop when you’re naturally full. A 4 is, “I could eat,” your stomach is a little empty and you’re experiencing emerging hunger. Remember- this is going to take time, and that’s ok.


Once we have hunger to a more recognizable, manageable place, we can begin to feel and respond to fullness.


As you begin to honor hunger, you can also begin to feel your fullness, and this is a necessary step in becoming an intuitive eater. If 5 is neutral, 6 is a very mild fullness- where your stomach is starting to feel full, but you’re not quite satisfied.


This is a space I see many women getting to, and then stopping- because they fear they’ll overeat. But if we are consistently avoiding satisfaction, through choosing satisfying foods or feeling physically satisfied, we will be perpetually hungry- and this doesn’t feel good or productive to our everyday lives or eating journey.


7 is sort of the fullness sweet spot- again, a nuanced place that will take time to get to. This is the space where your hunger- your physical body, and your tastebuds- your mental hunger- are satisfied, and if you eat more- you’ll be uncomfortable.


8 is that place where, whoops- I ate a little too much. Please know, it’s normal and ok to do this from time to time. You’ll begin, as you move through the process of uncomplicating eating, to notice the difference between a 6, a 7 and an 8- this is the hardest place to get too. Remember forgiveness is key here. There is nothing wrong with you if you overate. You can take this experience as information to inform future food decisions, but the food has already been eaten and begins to digest immediately, so there is nothing to do now, but forgive yourself and move on.


Levels 9 and 10 are the very uncomfortable stages of fullness that can be problematic- 9 is Thanksgiving-full, unbutton-your-pants-full, but you can still move. 10 is binge-full. So full, you can barely move, and you might feel physically sick. If you are feeling this way on a regular basis, this would be a reason to seek out professional help from an eating disorder specialist.


It can be helpful to reduce distractions during meals and use a pause in the middle of your meal to check in: What’s your taste experience? Are you hunger cues starting to fade? Are slight signs of fullness beginning to emerge? Continue eating until you feel comfortably full. What sensations do you feel in your body?⁣


The term ‘sensory specific satiety’ is used to describe when you eat a food, eventually, your taste buds become satisfied and food simply doesn’t taste as good. This is why it is important to eat slowly and enjoy your food and you can begin to notice that the fourth oreo doesn’t taste as good as the first, second or third. It’s not about controlling our food to avoid overeating-- it’s about recognizing what tastes and feels good in our bodies.


I know that hunger and fullness can be nuanced, but as with anything with balanced eating- it's all about practicing it! Learning how to be a balanced eater is SO much easier with support!


The Supermama Society is my unique group coaching membership designed for the busy mama who wants to own her balance, with tools, trained coaches and a community of likeminded women by her side to help her get there. Studies prove accountability is key to our success, and the Supermama will give you the tools AND the support you need to reach your goals of living a healthy balanced mama life and feel like the supermama I know you are.



As soon as you sign up, you'll gain access to:

  • Access to two complete self-paced courses to guide you through the exact steps you need to become an intuitive, balanced eater

  • Monthly live group coaching calls for support, accountability, advice and encouragement

  • Monthly Q + A’s to make sure you get ALL of your questions answered, access to discounted 1:1 coaching sessions as well as an exclusive resource library with recipes, meal ideas, worksheets and more

  • Expert-led, member-only workshops held throughout the year

Even better, the Supermama Society is affordable- choose from a one-time fee for lifetime access or monthly payment plan that works for your budget. Learn more and join us here.









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Kristin Dovbniak

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I'm Kris! Founder of Healthy Balanced Mama, I'm a holistic health coach, certified intuitive eating counselor, trained chef, and mama of two, and I'm here to guide busy moms like you in stressing less and finding freedom with food through balanced eating and simplified routines around meal planning, meal prep, grocery shopping and cooking with confidence.

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