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Physical Hunger vs. Emotional Hunger

Physical Hunger vs. Emotional Hunger

Did you know that there are different types of hunger? Namely, physical hunger and emotional hunger. Physical hunger is when you feel the sensation that you need to eat in order to nourish your body. Emotional hunger, on the other hand, is not real hunger. It may feel like hunger but, really it’s a way we avoid feeling uncomfortable feelings. Emotional eating, then, is the habit of eating to soothe those uncomfortable feelings.

Now, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing to celebrate using food from time to time as a pick me up or a reward. However, when eating is becomes an emotional coping mechanism, that is, when your first impulse is to eat when you feel angry, lonely, upset, exhausted, stressed, or bored, you run the risk of getting stuck in an unhealthy cycle of emotional eating. When this happens, the real, underlying issue or problem never gets addressed.

How To Recognize If You Are An Emotional Eater

  • Do you eat more when you’re feeling stressed?
  • Do you eat even when you’re not hungry or when you’re already full?
  • Do you eat to make yourself feel better, such as when you’re sad, mad, bored, anxious?
  • Do you reward yourself with food?
  • Do you over-eat on a regular basis?
  • Do you feel powerless or out of control when it comes to food?

Physical Hunger vs. Emotional Hunger

Here’s a helpful chart to decide whether you are experiencing physical hunger or emotional hunger:

Emotional hunger vs. Physical hunger

Emotional hunger comes on suddenly. Physical hunger comes on gradually.
Emotional hunger feels like it needs to be satisfied instantly. Physical hunger can wait.
Emotional hunger craves specific comfort foods. Physical hunger is open to options–lots of things sound good.
Emotional hunger isn’t satisfied with a full stomach. Physical hunger stops when you’re full.
Emotional eating triggers feelings of guilt, powerlessness, and shame. Eating to satisfy physical hunger doesn’t make you feel bad about yourself.


 Ways to Cope When Emotional Hunger Strikes

#1. Identify your triggers – such as stress, “stuffing” your feelings, childhood habits, boredom

#2. Figure out healthy alternatives to emotional eating

  • When you feel depressed or lonely, call someone who’s a good listener and good at giving you positive advice
  • Play with your dog or cat, or look at a favorite photo or cherished memento
  • If you’re feeling anxious, expend that nervous energy by putting on music and dancing to your favorite song, squeezing a stress ball, or going for a brisk walk.
  • If you’re feeling tired, have a hot cup of tea, take a bath, light some scented candles, or wrap yourself up in your favorite cozy blanket
  • If you’re bored, read a good book, watch a comedy show, explore the outdoors, or get into a hobby, such as playing an instrument, crafts, shooting hoops, etc.

#3. Pause when cravings hit

Don’t just give in right away. Take a few moments to recognize how you are feeling and your tendency to reach for the snacks in this moment. Acknowledge your feelings and accept the uncomfortability of them. Be gentle and patient with yourself.

#4. Develop new, healthy habits

Such as:

  • Get into a daily exercise routine – I personally like yoga – it helps me to get in touch with my inner self and to feel balanced and centered. This supports me in avoiding emotional eating and keeps me from overeating.
  • Connect with others – reach out to your supports: friends, family, sober supports, other loved ones. It’s really important of close relationships and social activities. Spending time with positive people who enhance your life will help protect you from the negative effects of stress.
  • Make time for yourself. Set aside at least 30 minutes every day to relax, decompress, and unwind. Ways to do this are to get into meditation, take a hot bath, or read a couple of chapters of a book. This is a great way to recharge your batteries.

Remember, emotional hunger can’t be satisfied with food. It might temporarily feel good but, the feelings that triggered the eating will remain and will only keep you in the cycle of emotional eating. This can be quite detrimental because it will leave you feeling worse than you did before the eating episode because of the unnecessary calories you just consumed. You might beat yourself up for “messing up” and for not having more willpower.

If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse, addiction, or an eating disorder, please call toll-free 1-800-777-9588.


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