Emotional Hunger VS. Physical Hunger

Eating is necessary for sustenance, good health, and growth. Your body needs the carbohydrates, fats, and proteins found in food to give you energy and maintain all bodily functions.

However, eating is a complex behavior that has been shown to have many different functions, apart from the nutritional value. For example, it can be used as an emotional coping mechanism as well.

The problem with using food as a de-stressor is that this behavior usually will have harmful effects on your body that will make you feel worse. In the long run, this can have major negative effects on our bodies such as weight gain, isolation, and continuing in unhealthy coping patterns that could result in a potential eating disorder.

This doesn't have to be the let's look at the huge difference between the two to better understand what actually is going on in your body.

The difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger

Hunger is real. I think we can all remember a time when we got "hangry" and needed food now. Physical and emotional hunger, however, are very different from one another.

What is Physical Hunger?

When a person is hungry, there are hormones that go up and down your body. One of these hormones is ghrelin which tells the brain that you need more food. This hormone creates an empty feeling in the stomach when it has been too long since eating anything. So here's what it's like to feel physical hunger:

Develops Over Time

Physical hunger develops slowly over time. You'll begin to notice when you haven't eaten in a few hours, your body will slowly near the point of hunger pangs. If you wait too long to eat, it becomes painful.

No Cravings

When you are physically hungry, you desire a variety of different foods. Usually, you won't have intense food cravings or only focus on junk food. Both healthy foods, like fresh fruit also with comfort foods, can sound appetizing.

Full Feeling

You feel full. When you are feeding your body because you are physically hungry your brain will communicate with your stomach when you are full. Therefore the urge to eat more than you are needing to kicks in and you are able to stop when you are full.

No Guilt or Shame

Lastly, usually, you won't end your meal or snack feeling upset or guilty. Negative emotions are not commonly associated with physical hunger unless you are already struggling with some other irregular eating patterns and/or eating disorder(s).

What is Emotional Hunger?

Emotional hunger can be defined as using food as a way to cope with the world and its stressors. It is a common way to fill that empty void and create a false feeling of “fullness” or temporary wholeness. In stark contrast to physical hunger, you will be able to tell what emotional hunger is once you know what to look for.

Cravings for Junk Food

Ever feel like you could eat a whole bag of chips and an entire pint of ice cream? Eating or craving comfort foods or junk foods is a sign that you are emotionally eating instead of eating to satisfy your hunger.

It could be helpful to think through which goods you tend to reach for when you are emotionally hungry. Do you have sweet tooth? Do you crave salty foods? What do you like to eat when you have a craving?

Comes on Suddenly

Emotional hunger is usually triggered by something else in your life. It might be triggered by an event (see below) or something you are thinking about, but this hunger comes on suddenly. While physical hunger follows the circadian rhythms of the day built in my daily practice, emotional hunger has no bounds.

No Full Sensors

This one is tough. You eat your favorite comfort foods but never feel satisfied. When you are emotionally eating your brain does not communicate to your stomach that you are full. In fact, studies have shown that people who eat emotionally rarely stop before they tend to make themselves feel sick.

Feeling Upset

While sometimes binge eating can feel good at the moment, in actuality it leaves most people feeling guilty and upset. You may feel like you have lost control over your emotions or that all the pleasure has been taken out of food for you, but this is never a good sign. So what had the intention to start off as a way to cope with and reduce stress, in turn actually does the opposite.

Emotional Eating Triggers

Anything from work stress to financial pressures to a disrupting few major life events to health issues to relationship struggles - any of these could be the root cause of your emotional eating. As a way to gain control of your life, we commonly see both men and women reaching for food to be the source to reduce their stress.

Stress eating and emotional hunger while not uncommon can lead to an unhealthy cycle in your relationship with food.

However, stress is not the only emotion that can aid in emotional eating. Some others include boredom, loneliness, sadness, feeling overly full, excitement, joy or just wanting comfort.

It is essential to map out what your emotional eating trigger could be because once you know the cause, it is easier to recognize the pattern and begin to make a change.

In the next Blog, we are going to be sharing some MORE tips on how to combat emotional eating. Remember, this is a slow race, not a marathon. 

Was this helpful to you? Please comment below and let us know?! 

Cheers in Health, 


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