It’s important to try and get into the habit of eating three main meals every day. Your meals should include enough food (in terms of quantity and variety) to satisfy you until your next meal.
If you find you’re constantly hungry after eating, you may need to review the components of your meals. You can try increasing the serving size of non-starchy vegetables, protein, or healthy fats to help you feel full.
Balanced plate model
A good way to visualise a balanced meal is the healthy plate model.
Ideally, your plate will include a source of protein (1⁄4 of your plate), some complex carbohydrates (1⁄4 of your plate), and plenty of non-starchy vegetables (at least ½ of your plate). Also include at least one serving of healthy fats with your meal.
This would be an example of a complex carbohydrate containing meal.
If you’re not including one serving of complex carbohydrates, aim to make 2⁄3 of your plate non-starchy vegetables, and increase the protein portion to 1⁄3 of the plate so that you feel satisfied after the meal.
To help choose the right portions for you individually, you can use our visual hand models as a guide:
- Aim for one closed fist size of carbohydrate on your plate (making up 25% of your meal) ✊🏽
- Two open, cupped hands for your vegetable intake (making up 50% of your meal) 🤲🏽
- A protein portion the size of the palm of your hand, excluding fingers, unless your protein source is fish (making up the final 25% of your meal) ✋🏽
- A serving of healthy fats the size of your thumb 👍🏽
Use hunger and fullness cues
What do we mean when we say 'eat until you feel comfortably full'? The hunger scale can help you to describe your level of hunger and decide when it's best to start and stop eating throughout the day. In time, this will help you understand how big your portion sizes need to be at meals to feel satisfied.
The hunger scale
- Starving - You may feel weak, experience a headache, dizziness, and lack of concentration. Your body feels totally out of energy.
- Uncomfortably hungry - You feel irritable and cranky, with little energy. You may also feel nauseous.
- Hungry – Your stomach feels empty, and the urge to eat is strong
- A little hungry - You start to think about food. Your body is giving you the signal that you might want to eat.
- Not full but not that hungry – Your body has had enough food to keep going and is physically and psychologically just starting to feel satisfied
- Satisfied and light – You're fully satisfied and full
- Comfortable but slightly too full - You're feeling past the point of satisfaction, yet you can still find room for a little more. Your body might say no, but your mind says yes, so you take a few more bites.
- Very full – Your stomach is starting to really ache. You probably know you shouldn't have had more, but it tasted so good.
- Too full – You now feel really uncomfortable, heavy, tired, and bloated
- Beyond full – You're physically miserable, don't want to or can't move, and feel like you never want to look at food again. Not a good point to reach!
Try to aim to be within the 3 - 6 range most of the time. Also remember to stay well hydrated, as often our body can mistake thirst for hunger.
Using the hunger scale
Before you eat
Before you eat something, close your eyes and focus your attention on your stomach. Try not to let the knowledge of when you last ate influence your decision. Instead, simply let your stomach give you a number. Your body should naturally feel hunger (3 on the scale) around every 3-5 hours after you eat a meal.
If you notice you want to eat or you feel hungry from somewhere other than in your stomach, it might be that you're eating for an emotional reason or out of habit. Instead of eating at this time, try and find an alternative way to comfort yourself (we'll explore this topic more tomorrow).
During a meal
Eat slowly so you can listen to your fullness cues. Pay attention to body signals that tell you you're no longer hungry (you can use the hunger scale for these). Aim to be comfortably full, but avoid getting to the point of feeling stuffed.
Finishing a meal
Stop eating when you're around 5 or 6 on the hunger scale, even if that means leaving food on your plate.
Most of us have been taught from a young age that it’s wasteful to leave food on our plates. While there’s definitely validation in this, it’s important to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Yes, it may be wasteful the first few times you do this. However, gradually you’ll learn to adjust the amount of food you serve on your plate or reduce the quantities that you cook with. If you’re served too much at a restaurant, ask for a container to take home the leftovers.
It may take some time to unlearn the guilt associated with leaving food on your plate, but this will help you to become more mindful and in-tune with what your body needs.