Updated: Sep 23
Which Type Of Hunger Are You Experiencing - Physical Or Emotional?
Contrary to today’s diet culture, it’s OK to be hungry!
It doesn’t mean that you don’t have the willpower to stay away from unhealthy foods. It’s just the body’s natural signal that it needs food for energy and fuel.
This is physical hunger - the signal that is sent via the vagus nerve from your stomach to your brain, due to fluctuating levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone.
It’s also typically accompanied by feelings of emptiness in your stomach, rumbling sensations and growling noises.
Or is that really the whole hunger story?
Psychological/Emotional Hunger: how are they different from Physical Hunger?
Emotional hunger is not caused by an actual need for food to survive.
It’s driven usually out of habit, because you’re feeling emotional or upset, because you know that certain foods taste good, and then there’s the “fun factor” - like when you’re socializing or you see others eating food around you! As the name suggests, it's for "emotional" reasons.
This type of hunger comes down to simply having the strong desire to eat, which shows us the sheer power that the mind can exert over our actions.
However, it’s easier said than done to just fight all urges to eat, especially when we’re feeling stressed or when we just find food really appealing!
Signs that you may be an emotional eater
Let’s face it - we all want to be happy! So, when you’re “emotionally hungry”, what you’re actually craving is a hefty dopamine release!
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that’s triggered when you receive some kind of reward - and it’s a chemical reaction that your body repeatedly craves. No wonder it’s called the “feel good neurotransmitter”!
However, emotional eating is not simply a matter of a person lacking self-discipline or needing to eat less necessarily.
Here are some telltale signs that you have emotional triggers that may be causing you to eat, rather than true physical hunger:
Comes on suddenly and feels urgent (vs physical hunger which comes on more gradually)
Involves specific cravings (food, tastes or textures)--usually a combination of some of these characteristics: carbohydrates, sugary, fatty and/or salty foods, like pizza, chocolate, ice cream, and baked goods (whereas with physical hunger, you tend to gravitate toward a variety of foods, and you'd be open to different options)
Tends to cause you to eat more than you normally would to the point which you may feel uncomfortably full and even then, you may not even feel satisfied after eating (vs when you’re physically hungry, you eat to the point of feeling full, and it's much easier to listen to your body’s signals to stop eating) --Note: "satisfied" is a mental feeling
After eating, it leaves you feeling guilty and ashamed (vs when eating from physical hunger, negative feelings do not usually follow because you know you're listening to your body and satisfying a biological needs)
4 Ways to Cope with Emotional Eating
1. Identify your triggers.
This is key - you must come to understand the "why" underneath your emotional eating, for example: stress (hello Cortisol!), habit, fatigue, social pressures, etc. (This is a huge part of the Stop Binge Eating Program as we work towards breaking the cycle)
2. Substitute alternate positive behaviours for negative emotional drivers.
Learn to recognize your emotional needs and fill them in non-food ways.
We have all soothed ourselves with food too much now, why not experiment with other ways?
3. Eat well + mindfully.
Not only should you keep the healthiest possible food options on hand in the fridge and pantry, but consider adopting a more intuitive, mindful approach to eating.
4. Get support!
Find a nutrition and psychology practitioner who specializes in emotional and disordered eating to help you uncover the reasons WHY you engage in this type of eating behavior, and can help you cultivate a healthier relationship with food.
Or join my free Stop Binge Eating Community Facebook Group for tips, support and community!
Resources mentioned in this article:
1. The Stop Binge Eating Program --a step-by-step roadmap that helps women who struggle with binge eating, emotional eating, yo-yo dieting, constant snacking to lose weight for good by stopping the binge-restrict cycle without feeling deprived
2. The free Stop Binge Eating Community Facebook Group
Hungry for more?
What could be simpler than tossing together a few whole food ingredients? It takes only 5 minutes and no cooking either!
Snack Lovers Trail Mix
Raw (or soaked & lightly roasted), unsweetened, unsalted, and organic are your best choices for each ingredient, where possible.
Combine the following:
3 parts each seeds & nuts
Seeds: Coconut flakes/ribbons, sunflower &/or pumpkin seeds
Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts &/or cashews
2 parts each dried fruit/ chocolate chips
Here are some of my favorites:
Dried fruit: Raisins, dried cranberries, goji berries, chopped apricots, dates
Dark/white chocolate chips or chunks (dairy free, low sugar)
Mix thoroughly and store in a sealed container in a cool, dry place.