Physical Hunger vs. Emotional Hunger
- Have you ever had the urge to eat even though you just recently ate? This used to happen to me all the time. I would eat a great lunch and as soon as I got back to my office I felt the urge for something sweet.
- Have you ever eaten just because it was time to eat and you weren’t even really hungry? Me too. All. The. Time.
- Have you ever kept eating past the point where you were stuffed? Yep. Me too.
- Feeling the need to reward yourself with comfort food after a rough day? Totally!
As part of my weight loss journey I’ve been learning a great deal about the differences between physical hunger and emotional hunger. Distinguishing the difference between the two is one of the most important skills when working on decreasing overeating.
One of the best indicators of actual physical hunger is that any food will satisfy it. If you are hungry for just an In N Out burger and nothing else will do it’s likely that you’re feeling emotional hunger. Physical hunger occurs after some time has passed since your last meal. It comes on gradually and you can wait. In fact you may find that if you wait, the hungry feeling goes away for a while. You may have a rumbling sound or an empty sensation in your stomach. One key point is that satisfying true physical hunger doesn’t make you feel bad or guilty.
Emotional or psychological hunger is a desire to eat even when you are not physically hungry. It can come on suddenly and feel very urgent. You may feel that you need to eat immediately. When trying to satisfy emotional hunger you tend to eat more – you have difficulty stopping when you are full. You may also crave a specific food. Emotional eating tends to trigger guilt, shame and a sense that you are powerless over overeating. It may satisfy you temporarily but since the root problem isn’t fixed, the hunger returns. The problem may be unmet emotional needs, the discomfort of feeling negative emotions, stress, anger, depression and boredom. It can even be simply out of habit.
To start becoming more aware of how you feel when you are hungry try journaling for the next week or so. Each time you feel hungry or you just want to eat, write it down. What are you thinking about? What physical sensations do you have? Start to look at possible triggers for overeating. Once you can identify your triggers you can begin to take action. You can limit the triggers or develop alternate healthy behaviors.
Remember that emotional eating does not solve the problem you are trying to numb and you add problems – weight gain, feelings of shame or guilt, unresolved issues. And you never learn to actually notice your negative thoughts and emotions and learn to manage them.