What Are the Physical Cues of Hunger and Satiety?

We are all born with the ability to connect to and listen to our bodies. At some point, environmental factors cloud our judgment and tell us our bodies or we do not know what is best.

To answer what physical cues of hunger and satiety are, we must first explore how to reconnect and trust what our body is trying to communicate.

Are you Connected to Your Body and Mind?

Connecting to your body and mind while eating takes practice and application of not 1, but 2 sets of principles including mindful and intuitive eating principles.

Mindful Eating

Mindful eating first explores why we make decisions about food and eating. This approach takes us through a cycle to bring intention and attention to the process of eating.

The Mindful Eating Cycle [1]:

  • Why do I eat?
  • When do I want to eat?
  • What do I eat?
  • How do I eat?
  • How much do I eat?
  • Where do I invest my energy?

Mindful Eating Notes

When connecting to hunger and satiety the most important piece of the mindful cycle is how you eat. How each of us eats determines whether we feel content or deprived [1].

By bringing intention at meals, you will eat due to feeling hunger and provide your body with the energy it needs to optimally function. Bringing attention to the experience of eating then creates an environment with less distraction and more connection to the senses and the body’s cues [1].

Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating incorporates mindful eating principles while also challenging cognitive distortions and emotional eating. This dynamic process integrates the attunement of body, mind, and food [2].

Intuitive Eating Principles [2]:

  1. Reject the Diet Mentality
  2. Honor Your Hunger
  3. Make Peace with Food
  4. Challenge the Food Police
  5. Feel Your Fullness
  6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor
  7. Cope with Your Emotions without Using Food
  8. Respect Your Body
  9. Exercise-Feel the Difference
  10. Honor your Health with Gentle Nutrition

The intuitive principles of honoring hunger and feeling fullness are primarily reliant on connecting to and listening to the body.

Are you Listening to What the Body is Communicating?

Intuitive eating tells us the body communicates hunger and fullness through a range of physical feelings or sensations. This range will be a useful tool as we continue to explore connecting to cues of hunger and satiety.

The Hunger and Fullness Scale [2]

  1. Empty
  2. Ravenous
  3. Set
  4. Pangs
  5. Neutral (ranges from 5-6)
  6. Neutral-Satisfied
  7. Satisfied (ranges from 6-7)
  8. Full
  9. Stuffed
  10. Sick

Ideally, when eating we aim to fall between satisfied and full. This can range from 6 to 7 on the hunger and fullness scale. It is also helpful to start eating at a 3 or 4, if you started eating at a 1 or 2 you are less likely to eat mindfully and intuitively.

Physical Cues of Hunger

Before you start to eat ask yourself where am I on the hunger scale? When working towards honoring your biological hunger you must be willing to listen to your body. This is easier said than done and will take practice.

To have trustworthy and consistent hunger cues your body must know dieting and deprivation have ended and you will be providing your body with consistent access to nourishment [2].

Related Reading

For some reading this you may be aware of hunger signals and for others, you may not feel hungry. You may even wonder, is it possible my hunger cues will return? Hunger cues can come back with consistent nourishment, and you can learn to not only hear them but to listen.

Hunger cues will feel different for everyone, here is a list of hunger sensations you may experience [2]:

  • Mild gurgling or gnawing in the stomach
  • Growling noises
  • Light-headedness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Uncomfortable stomach pain
  • Irritability
  • Feeling Faint
  • Headache

These sensations can range from feeling gentle to ravenous [2]. The goal when listening to hunger is to eat before becoming overly hungry or ravenous. Remember if you start eating at a 1 or 2 on the hunger scale you are more likely to overeat.

Headache pain

If you are still working on consistency with eating and having difficulty hearing hunger cues, be careful not to go more than 3-4 hours without eating. Those who go longer than 5 hours without eating are more likely to feel out of control at their next meal or snack.

Physical Cues of Satiety

Feeling your fullness involves remaining curious about how you are experiencing the food and how your body changes as you eat. Being full at a meal is not determined by you telling your body it’s had enough, but by trusting your body will communicate satiety.

When exploring satiety or fullness ask yourself a couple of questions [1]:

  1. How does my stomach feel compared to when I started eating?
  2. Does it feel full, content, expanded, uncomfortable, painful?
  3. How does the food taste compared to when I started eating?
  4. Where am I on the hunger and fullness scale?

Some feelings of satiety may include [2]:

  • A subtle feeling of stomach fullness
  • Feeling satisfied and content
  • Nothingness – neither hungry nor full
  • Thoughts of food subside

When satiety is reached food may still be on your plate or you may have needed to get up for an additional helping. These are both parts of eating intuitively and honoring your hunger and satiety.

For guidance along the journey of mindful and intuitive eating connect with a Registered Dietitian in your area. Remember this is a journey and there will be ups and downs. Eating mindfully and intuitively means being imperfect, making mistakes, and learning as you go.


[1] May, M., MD. (2020). Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle (Updated 2020 ed.). Am I Hungry? Publishing.

[2] Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2012). Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works (Third ed.). St. Martin’s Griffin.

Author: Raylene Hungate, RDN,LD/N

Page Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on September 22, 2021
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com, Treatment Resources & Information on Eating Disorders