Types of Hunger: Learning to Understand Them

Understanding Hunger: Physical vs. Emotional

Understanding hunger, physical versus emotional, can be tricky. There are a few ways to develop this skill.

For most of us, it is not easy to know the difference between physical and emotional hunger. Understanding our hunger can be hard. It can sometimes overwhelm us, but it's actually not very difficult, with a little bit of practice and some mindfulness put toward the effort. 

When you get home after a long day of work, and you see the cupcakes that you made on Sunday sitting on the counter calling your name, is it physical hunger or emotional hunger? Or maybe a little bit of both? Most of us don’t know, because our tendency is to head straight to the cupcakes and dive right in. One, two, or three cupcakes later, and we are either feeling satisfied or upset with ourselves for eating them. Or maybe some mix of both? 

READ MORE: 10 Reasons Why You Are Having Food Cravings

But what would happen if you paused for a moment before eating the cupcakes and said to yourself, “Am I actually hungry right now? Or would those cupcakes just make me happy?” Is it hunger, or a craving? (Well, that's probably another topic for another post, right?) Would you be able to detect if you were physically hungry or were eating to satisfy an emotion? And if so, how?

Here’s how to begin understanding hunger.

Understanding Hunger: Physical vs Emotional

Physical Hunger:

This is real hunger. The kind of hunger that makes you want to chew your arm off. Have you heard the term “hangry” before? Well, this is it. You don’t care what you eat, you just need to eat. When you are physically hungry even boiled chicken and broccoli would taste good.

Some signs of physical hunger include:

  1. Comes on gradually
  2. It is a hunger that comes from your stomach
  3. It can be satisfied with any food
  4. You are able to stop eating when you are full
  5. Occurs out of a physical need
  6. Your eating is deliberate and is done with awareness

Emotional Hunger:

This is the kind of hunger when you crave something specific like homemade cupcakes. It is usually a craving for the foods that you don’t allow yourself to have because they are on your “bad foods” list.

Some signs of emotional hunger include:

  1. It comes on suddenly
  2. It is a hunger that comes from your head or heart
  3. It is a craving for a specific food
  4. You continue to eat even after you are full
  5. Occurs out of an emotional need
  6. Your eating is automatic and absent-minded
  7. You feel guilty after eating

At the end of the day, it is not about the food. If you just found yourself saying, “This is me” to more than one bullet in the emotional hunger category then it may be time to start diving into your feelings and finding a healthy way to express them in a nurturing way. You can start by keeping an emotional eating journal to see if you have any patterns. Then begin by improving your relationship with food with these 5 tips. Finally, find support. It is the best thing you can do for yourself.

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