We all experience hunger in our daily lives, but do you know when it’s emotional hunger vs physical hunger?
Many of us confuse the two, leading to unhealthy eating habits and a lack of self-awareness.
In this blog post, we will discuss the differences between physical and emotional hunger, what each one feels like, and how to overcome emotional hunger.
By understanding these concepts better, you can make more mindful decisions about your food choices and take control of your own health.
So let’s dive into the difference between physical and emotional hunger!
What is Physical Hunger?
Physical hunger is a real and tangible type of hunger we experience. It’s the cue our body gives us that it needs nutritional support to fuel us in whatever activity we are doing.
The signs can range from subtle rumblings in your stomach to outright growling, shakiness, fatigue, or lightheadedness.
Recognizing physical hunger cues means you can listen to your body and understand when it’s time to eat, responding only with nourishing food that will satisfy without any feelings of guilt or restriction.
What is Emotional Hunger?
Emotional hunger is a term that describes how certain feelings can drive us to use food as a way to cope.
This type of hunger isn’t necessarily related to physical needs but instead is rooted in an emotional need.
Contrary to popular belief, comfort foods are not really comforting – they only act as temporary distractions from our negative emotions or unmet needs.
Many times we do not know what the underlying cause of our emotional hunger is, however, there are ways to tackle it and overcome it.
It’s important to focus on consciously addressing your emotional needs through healthy activities that don’t involve turning toward food for comfort.
Emotional Hunger vs Physical Hunger: What is the difference?
It can be common for us to confuse emotional hunger with physical hunger. After all, we have both kinds of cravings as humans!
However, there are key differences between the two that can help us distinguish one from the other.
Emotional hunger is your body’s way of telling you that something isn’t quite right in your mental and/or spiritual state, while physical hunger is your body’s natural response to not having eaten recently.
Here are 5 signs to look out for when differentiating between emotional hunger vs physical hunger:
1. A strong desire in your mind vs a growling stomach in your body
Many of us can relate to that feeling of ’emotional hunger’ as that strong desire or craving in our mind for something when we’re feeling low or overwhelmed.
While it may not be accompanied by a physical sensation like a growling stomach, it can just feel like something is missing and make us vulnerable to making decisions based on short-term solutions rather than long-term gains.
On the other hand, physical hunger originates from the body and our need for nutrients – it’s those signals from our stomachs when we’ve gone too long without eating.
2. Coming on suddenly and intensely vs building gradually
Have you ever felt an intense craving for something right out of the blue? It could be a certain food, like a warm cookie with a tall glass of milk, or some time alone with your favorite movie.
This type of powerful urge is a sign of emotional hunger, which differs significantly from physical hunger in the way it manifests.
Whereas physical hunger gradually builds up over time, emotional hunger often comes on suddenly and intensely.
It’s important to recognize this difference so that you can ensure that you’re responding to your body in the best way possible.
3. Craving specific foods vs can be satisfied with any food
If you have ever been so hungry that you crave a specific dish or food – usually unhealthy ‘comfort’ food, that’s a sign from your body that you may be emotionally hungry instead of physically hungry.
When we feel physically hungry, we can usually satisfy our cravings with any food, no matter what it is.
But when we’re emotionally hungry, even if our stomach is full, simple satisfaction isn’t enough and we really want something specific, and we may become obsessed with eating that specific food.
It’s important to remember this key difference between emotional hunger vs physical hunger and then use this food test to correctly identify and appropriately address the hunger.
Addressing physical hunger can look like eating balanced meals and avoiding overeating whereas addressing emotional hunger could mean engaging in activities that make us feel good or speaking with a trusted person.
Understanding the difference can help us nurture ourselves better when cravings arise.
4. Doesn’t go away after eating vs goes away after eating and feeling full
How often have you reached for something to eat, only to find that it didn’t relieve your hunger? Chances are, you were experiencing emotional hunger as opposed to physical hunger.
Emotional hunger is when we feel hungry even if our bodies don’t need sustenance – it’s a craving for comforting foods and a longing for connection.
On the other hand, physical hunger goes away after eating until we feel full.
Physical hunger doesn’t discriminate in terms of what type of food is eaten, but emotional hunger almost always leads to unhealthy cravings because it tries to mask and fill voids in our lives caused by emotion.
Knowing which kind of hunger you’re experiencing can help guide you toward healthier decisions that are best for both your body and mind.
5. Leads to feelings of guilt and shame vs a feeling of satisfaction
Emotional hunger differs from physical hunger in both implications and results.
While physical hunger can be satiated with the consumption of food which leads to a feeling of satisfaction, emotional hunger will leave you with a feeling of guilt and shame no matter how much you try to fill it.
Physical hunger is related to one’s body while emotional hunger has more to do with our mental health – filling its needs is just as important as providing sustenance for our bodies.
If we can learn the difference between supplying physical nourishment and satisfying our emotional needs, we can find ways better manage these pangs of hunger.
How to overcome emotional hunger
Emotional hunger is very different from physical hunger, and it can be difficult to know how to cope when feelings like loneliness or boredom cause us to reach for food.
The good news is that there are practical steps we can take to overcome emotional hunger without relying on food as a source of comfort.
1. Understand the root cause
The first step to overcoming emotional hunger is to understand what it is and why you are experiencing it. Ask yourself why you have these cravings and seek professional help if needed.
When we are able to understand why we are feeling the urge to eat due to emotional reasons, we can begin to take steps towards overcoming it.
Identifying the root cause of our emotional hunger is key to taking a proactive stance toward managing and preventing it.
2. Identify triggers and make plans for them
Once we understand the source of our emotional hunger, it’s time to identify what triggers those feelings.
We can then set boundaries and guidelines for ourselves to help reduce these cravings.
This could involve avoiding certain situations or places that make us feel vulnerable, or removing unhealthy snacks from our homes.
If certain people are triggering your emotional hunger, set boundaries and distance yourself if necessary.
3. Practice self-care
Another great way to begin tackling emotional hunger is to practice self-care.
Self-care looks different for everyone, but the key is to do things that make you feel good – whether it’s watching your favorite movie, taking a hot bath, or dancing around the living room.
By taking the time to care for yourself and boost your mood, you can start curbing emotional hunger and feeling more connected with your body and emotions.
It may take some trial and error as you learn what activities work best for you – but keep at it and you’ll soon have simple strategies you can use when managing emotional hunger cravings.
4. Practice mindfulness
Instead of trying to distract yourself immediately with food, take a moment to pause and assess your feelings.
Mindfulness can be a powerful tool in managing emotional hunger – by becoming aware of our thoughts, we can begin to understand how emotions are driving us to eat.
By being mindful and present in the moment, we can recognize the signs that we’re reaching for food out of emotion, and make conscious decisions about what to do next.
This can help us break the cycle of unhealthy mindless eating habits, and guide us toward healthier decisions that are best for both our body and mind.
5. Replace bad habits with good ones
Create healthy coping mechanisms like going for a walk or talking to a friend when you feel the urge to emotionally eat.
This can help to replace bad habits with good ones and give you a positive way to work through strong emotions.
Creating positive coping strategies for ourselves is a great way to begin tackling emotional hunger in the long term.
6. Find the right foods
If you feel like you can’t resist the urge to eat, try to choose healthy foods that will nourish your body and mind.
Snack on fruit or vegetables instead of processed snacks, or try making a nutritious smoothie full of vitamins and minerals.
Eating foods that make us feel good mentally and physically can help to reduce the urge to emotionally eat, and provide our bodies with the nutrients it needs.
By introducing more nutrient-dense foods into our diets, we can give ourselves the energy and nourishment we need to better manage emotional hunger cravings.
7. Get moving
Physical activity is a great way to relieve stress, improve your mood and distract yourself from the urge to eat.
Go for a walk or a run, join a yoga class, or find an online workout – exercise can help to boost your mood and create positive energy in the body.
Movement is also a great way to channel negative emotions into something productive and healthy.
By getting active, you’ll not only be less likely to emotionally eat, but you’ll also be able to enjoy the benefits of improved mental health and well-being.
8. Seek professional help
If you find yourself struggling with emotional hunger, don’t be afraid to seek out the support of professionals such as a therapist, nutritionist, or weight loss coach.
They can provide a safe space for you to talk about your feelings and help you find the best way to manage emotional hunger.
By surrounding yourself with a supportive network of people, you’ll be able to start tackling your emotional eating habits in the right way.
In conclusion, understanding emotional hunger vs physical hunger and managing emotional hunger can be a challenging process.
However, by making small changes in our daily routines and utilizing mindfulness techniques to become aware of our thoughts, we can begin to better manage these cravings.
Additionally, replacing bad habits with good ones such as physical activity or talking to friends is also effective for curbing emotional hunger.
Finally, if you’re still struggling with managing your emotions through food then don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help – they are there to support you every step of the way.
With time and practice, you will soon have healthy strategies that work best for you when it comes to dealing with emotional eating patterns.