Emotional vs. True Hunger.

It is important to know the difference between emotional hunger and true hunger. When we eat to try to cope with some emotion, fill some void, tame boredom, or engage in self-harm through binge-eating, it will only lead to more emotional pain and poor physical and psychological health.

Learn to pay attention to when you are truly hungry, and then eat! Even if it is an extra healthy snack, over what you planned for calories, if you are truly hungry you should eat something. This will prevent that emotional hunger later, improve your mood, and improve your sleep. If you are not actually hungry, but experiencing boredom or some other emotion, find a different way to cope.

Learn the difference between emotional and true hunger. Here are some ways to tell the difference, some of these taken from the book 50 ways to Soothe Yourself without Food, an easy and motivational read…

Emotional Hunger:

  • Your desire to eat comes on quickly. You can go from not hungry to hungry in a matter of moments, without having had hunger cues before this point.
  • Your hunger increases as you experience your feelings. Stress, anger, sadness, boredom, and even happiness, get you feeling hungrier.
  • Your feeling of hunger is so intense you don’t care what you eat. You can’t think through your healthy options and stay on track – even if you have planned ahead.
  • All of the sudden any food sounds good, and you are open to suggestion.
  • You crave certain foods, like chocolate, fast food, junk food, sweets – one of your vices – and something that would be merely filling would not do.
  • Your hunger urges you to engage in mindless eating – not really tasting your food, but just putting it in your mouth.
  • Satisfaction is hard to reach, and it seems unrelated to how full or empty your stomach is.
  • You may have a fleeting thought before eating that you will feel guilty afterward – and then you may feel guilty afterward.

True (belly) hunger:

  • You notice your need to eat grows gradually, particularly based on when and how much you ate last.
  • You are looking for something filling, rather than craving a specific taste. You are open to healthy options, and able to say no to the things you actually want to avoid.
  • You experience distinct physiological hunger cues, like stomach growling. When really hungry and having gone too long without food, you may get a headache or feel irritable (hangry!)
  • You are aware of your body’s sensation of hunger as you eat, you feel satisfied as you fill your hunger, and you tend to quit eating when full.
  • You can wait a while to eat, instead of needing to eat compulsively every time you feel a desire to eat.
  • Your hunger is not associated with guilt.

Stopping some of the compulsive, bad-food eating behaviors that come with excessive true hunger is done by ensuring you eat consistently throughout the day, do not go too long between meals, eat a small snack to get you to your next meal, choose filling/healthy foods, and ensure you have healthy foods available.

Do not be afraid to eat! Just pay attention to your body, learn your hunger cues, learn when you are more likely to eat for emotional hunger, and plan accordingly. If you do eat for emotional hunger, just get back on track and try something different next time!

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