How To Recognize Your Physical Signs of Hunger

by Voula Manousos | Wellness


Do you know when you’re hungry? Do you eat when you are physically hungry or is there usually another trigger that sets off eating? Getting in tune with your hunger and fullness cues is a vital part of eating peacefully and understanding why you are eating. Overtime you may have learned to ignore your hunger and fullness signals and resorted to mindless eating. You may have even lost touch with hunger because of years of dieting and restriction. When you are disconnected from your physical signs of hunger and fullness signals you lose the ability to regulate your intake to meet your body’s needs. This can lead to overeating, under-eating or binge eating.

Maybe you have struggled with food or have been accustomed to long periods without eating, and you are now disconnected to the sensation of hunger. Is it that you seldom feel hunger, or are you too busy or distracted to notice? Have you learned to ignore hunger in order to control your weight? Maybe you truly aren’t hungry because you are eating for reasons other than hunger, so your body doesn’t need to signal that fuel is needed.

The key question that needs to be answered: How do you know that you’re hungry? What are the signs your body is giving you to let you know that you need to eat. To identify hunger, you need to know how to look for it. A strategy you can use is regularly doing a “Body-Mind-Heart Scan” (from Dr. Michelle, “Eat what you Love, Love what you eat” May 2013). This body scan will help you become more aware and mindful about what your body truly needs.


1. Focus your attention: try to minimize making decisions about eating when you are in front of the sights and smells of food. People who struggle with eating can be food suggestible. It may be hard to make a distinction between wanting to eat and needing to eat. Remove yourself from any situation you associate with eating to remove mixed signals. Go outside, or move to another room to help you tune into your signals.

2. Focus inward: Once you are away from food, close your eyes for a moment. Try to tune out your surroundings for that moment. As an example, if you say a prayer before eating, add a few more seconds to your mealtime prayer in order to tune out what is going on around you.

3. Take a few deep breaths to help calm yourself: It may be difficult to recognize signs of hunger if you are around food or thinking about eating when feeling tired, anxious or sad. Taking a few deep breaths to center and reconnect with your body and mind will allow you to focus on the important sensations and feelings. You can do this while you are focusing inward.

4. Focus on physical sensations: Connect with your body by placing your hand on your upper abdomen, just below your rib cage. Picture your stomach. It’s the size of your fist when empty and can stretch to several times that size when full. Imagine how full it is.

5. Ask yourself “Am I hungry?”: How do you feel physically? Do you sense hunger pangs? Is your stomach growling? Does your stomach feel empty or full? If you are neither hungry or full, you probably don’t feel your stomach at all.

6. Notice other physical feelings: Being mindful of your body’s signals is key to making decisions around eating. Are you feeling light-headed, anxious, thirsty, edgy? Are you aware of any tension or discomfort? Understanding your feelings will allow you to connect to your body and its needs.

7. Focus on your feelings and thoughts: What are the feelings and emotions you are experiencing at the moment. Try to release any negative thoughts you might have about eating. Hunger is a normal sensation. There should not be any guilt around this normal physical need.


The first step to eating peacefully and purposefully is getting in touch with what your body truly needs. The Body-Mind-Heart scan is a tool that can help you become more present and fully aware of these needs. It will help tap into the internal wisdom you always had. Identifying your physical signs of hunger is the first step to learning when to eat and will eventually heighten your awareness of why and how much to eat. Try using the Body-Mind-Heart scan every time you are in a social situation at home or when you are thinking of eating. Practicing this skill over and over again, like riding a bike, will allow it to eventually become second nature and something you don’t have to think about anymore.

If you would like a guiding hand in your weight loss or weight management journey, please visit my Nutrition Services page to learn more about how I can help you.

Voula Manousos
Registered Dietitian/Licensed Nutritionist (RD, LDN) at Nutrition Design With You In Mind

Voula is a Registered Dietitian specializing in mindful healthy eating practices with a focus on weight management and maternal health. Voula completed her Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics at McGill University Montreal, Canada in 1999. She also holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology from the Universite de Montreal. In 2017 she obtained a Certificate of Training in Adult Weight Management. With over 23 years in the field, Voula has counseled thousands of patients in the areas of weight management and maternal health.

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