Emotional vs. Physical Hunger: 4 Ways to Tell the Difference


There is a big difference between emotional and physical hunger that seems to be blurred by many of us these days.  Emotional hunger means that you turn to food either to avoid uncomfortable emotions or to heighten a pleasurable one.  Typically, it means that you eat based on how you feel, rather than what your body needs.  Physical hunger means that you eat when your body signals to you that you are actually hungry.  Usually, when we are hungry, we are able to stop eating when we are satisfied and before we are uncomfortably full.

Usually, we can see examples of emotional hunger by realizing some of our feelings.  

  • Are you eating for comfort or out of loneliness or sadness?
  • Are you bored?
  • Are you trying to sooth anxious or depressed feelings?
  • Are you trying to suppress an aching heart?

It may be hard to determine if we are eating due to our emotions.  However, examples of physical hunger are much more easy to detect and are based on our sensations.

  • Our stomach growls and we feel that hollow sensation in our stomachs
  • Your body feels weak or energy seems to suddenly go down
  • Blood sugar gets low and you may begin to feel shaky
  • Feeling of lightheadedness 

If you can learn to effectively listen to your body, you will forever be freed from being a slave to food.  Flexible dieting and knowing your cues for emotional and physical hunger will allow you to feel more in control of your eating and less dependent on food to help your moods or emotions.  Eventually, you will be able to determine how hungry or full you really are.  You can actually train yourself to stop eating before you are too full and to not turn to food when you are not actually hungry.  Check in with yourself during your meal and realize when you feel satisfied, even if it means not finishing your meal.  Figure out an end of the meal ritual you can do to signal that you are finished.  Try putting your napkin over your plate, pushing the plate away, or simply say that you are done out loud.  

Many of us have struggled with emotional eating and have learned to break free from the cycle to create a happy and healthy relationship around food.  Use these tips to come up with your own plan to help you identify the difference between emotional and physical hunger so that you can lose weight, have more energy, and develop healthy habits around eating.

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