End Binge Eating with the Hunger Scale

Shannon Oliver-O'Neil, LCSW Therapist, Supervisor of Interns, Art Museum / Fairmount Office Manager

Posted by: Shannon Oliver-O'Neil
LCSW Therapist, Supervisor of Interns, Art Museum / Fairmount Office Manager
267-428-2610

Many people who struggle with binge eating have successfully disconnected from their bodies and their ability to sense hunger. This is because binges are triggered by uncomfortable emotions such as shame, sadness, anger or fear, and not by hunger. Similarly, binges rarely stop because a person is full or even uncomfortably full. Binge eating is a coping tool to numb or mask uncomfortable feelings. Reconnecting to your body and your awareness of hunger/fullness is a powerful tool for managing binges. Doing so can help you slow down your binge eating cycle, and buy you time to utilize other, healthier tools for managing difficult feelings. If you’d like tools for self-soothing, check out [link to tip]. In this Hunger Scale exercise, we’ll use a hunger scale to practice reconnecting to your body and your hunger. By strengthening this connection, you will better be able to manage your binges and build more intuitive eating habits.

On a piece of paper, create a scale from -5 to +5. It should look something like this

5: TOO FULL

4

3

2

1

0: TRUE NEUTRAL

-1

-2

-3

-4

-5: STARVING

On this scale, +5 represents being too full; the fullest you’ve ever been, full to the point of extreme discomfort or even throwing up. Next to +5, write down a memory you have of being the fullest you’ve ever been.

On this scale, 0 represents true neutral; feeling neither hunger nor fullness. Next to 0, write down a memory you have of feeling neither hungry nor full.

On this scale, -5 represents being too hungry, the hungriest you’ve ever been, hungry to the point of extreme discomfort, dizziness, hanger or pain. Next to -5, write down a memory you have of being the hungriest you’ve ever been.

Using the memories at +5, 0 and -5 as anchors, fill in the rest of the scale. Next to each number, write down another memory. Look at your scale of memories, and focus in on the sensations. What’s happening in your body at a +5? At a -3? Use the memories you’ve written down to guide you. Do you tend to get headaches at a -3? Do you tend to feel bloated and distended at a +4? Does your heart race at a -2? At each point on the scale, what are the sensations in your stomach, your chest, your face, and your head? We’ll use this information to help you pinpoint where you are on the hunger scale at any given moment.

For the next week, use this scale before and after every time you eat. Where on the scale do you usually begin to eat? Where on the scale are you when you begin to binge? Where are you on the scale when you decide to stop? Begin to notice what your patterns and trends are around hunger. From there, you may experiment with attempting to eat only when you are between -1 and -3, and attempting to stop eating whenever you are between a 1 and 3.

If this is difficult for you, that’s ok! Bingeing puts us out of relationship with our awareness of hunger, and it may take time to rebuild this skill. Consider making an appointment with a therapist to further speed along this process.

If you are ready to delve deeper, begin paying attention to the relationship of your emotions, your binge urges, and your location on the hunger scale. When you feel the urge to eat, what feelings are present? What about when you feel the urge to binge? When you’re ready to stop, what feelings are present? What feelings are present when you’re hungry vs bingeing? Identifying trigger feelings as well as your level of hunger gives you more complete information, so you can make a more informed choice about what your body actually needs when you feel the urge to binge. If you would like help managing trigger feelings, make an appointment with a therapist today.