Healthy Eating

Physical Hunger Vs Emotional Hunger: Can You Spot The Difference?

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So how do you spot the difference between physical hunger vs emotional hunger?

When you’re hungry, you’re just hungry, right?

Not necessarily…

Emotional hunger can be powerful, so it’s very easy to mistake it for physical hunger. But there are cues you can look for to help spot the difference between them.

Today we’re going to talk about these differences:

  1. How Fast Does It Comes On?
  2. Craving A Specific Food?
  3. Mindless or Aware?
  4. How Satisfied Are You?
  5. Where is it located?
  6. Do You Feel Guilt?

How Fast Does Physical Hunger vs Emotional Hunger Come On?

Emotional Hunger: comes on suddenly. 
Physical Hunger: comes on gradually.

Have you ever been just, well, doing anything, and you start craving something? It just comes on suddenly… Like “I need this” now.

Or a song comes on the radio and triggers a memory of “moms’ cooked dinner” or her “famous apple pie”…

That is emotional hunger. It is a craving triggered by something external, rather than your internal system.

It hits you in an instant and feels overwhelming and urgent. Physical hunger, on the other hand, comes on more gradually. The urge to eat doesn’t feel as dire or demand instant satisfaction (unless you haven’t eaten for a very long time).
So unless you haven't eaten in a while, it wouldn't be as urgent.

Craving A Specific Food?

Emotional Hunger: craves specific foods. 
Physical Hunger: almost anything will sound good… including the healthy stuff.

When you’re physically hungry, almost anything sounds good—including healthy stuff like vegetables. But emotional hunger craves junk food or sugary snacks that provide an instant rush. You feel like you need cheesecake or pizza, and nothing else will do.

I know for me it was always candy and chocolate because I was so close to Mac’s and could get it immediately.

In the last little while, I have been able to catch myself in these instant gratification scenarios and become more aware of my actions.

This brings me to the next clue:

Mindlessness or Awareness?

Emotional Hunger: often leads to mindless eating. 
Physical Hunger: when eating in response to physical hunger, you’re typically more aware.

When you’re sitting down in front of the tv watching a show or a movie, and all of a sudden you look down and you’ve finished the entire bag of chips… or the entire row of cookies… and you’re like what just happened?

I used to do that all the time.

Try becoming more aware of your physical hunger cues and level changes:

  1. Putting electronics away when eating
  2. Slow down and notice all the flavors
  3. Feel as your hunger level changes
If you are interested in reading more about hunger, check out the book Intuitive Eating by RDN Evelyn Tribole, MS, & RDN Elyse Resch, MS (Amazon CA/ Amazon US).

I really loved this book and it has so many insights and a ton of knowledge in getting more in tune with your body, and listening to its signals.

How Satisfied Are You?

Emotional Hunger: isn’t satisfied once you’re full and you keep wanting more. 
Physical Hunger: you feel satisfied when your stomach is full.

Emotional hunger you very rarely are able to stop when you’re full, and it leads to that feeling of being stuffed, or gross. The “ughhh I ate too much” feeling.

You know what I’m talking about right?

If you are still not satisfied after you eat, take a pause, wait 15 minutes and rate how you feel:

Rate your level of hunger on a scale from 0-10.  0 being starving, “I could literally eat grandma’s holiday fruitcake; what does she put in that anyway?” and 10 being overstuffed, “That last piece of cake sounds good, but if I take one more bite I may pop!” The higher you rate yourself the better the chance that you’re experiencing a head hunger over a physical hunger.

Metabolic Research Center (MRC)

If there’s one thing I learned on this journey it’s that tip.

Be aware of the choices I am making when it comes to my wellness; always stop and think “will this get me closer or further from my goals?”

Where is Physical Hunger vs Emotional Hunger Located?

Emotional Hunger: located in the brain, and like a craving, you can’t get out of your head. 
Physical Hunger: comes on as a growling belly or a pang in your stomach.
physical hunger vs emotional hunger graphic from MRC
Save this graphic from MRC as a quick reminder of the differences in physical vs. emotional hunger:

With emotional hunger, you crave certain smells, certain textures, tastes, etc. (also known as mouth, head, or heart hunger).

This was a regular occurrence for me…

I would sit there remembering how it tasted, smelled, or saying I craved the “crunch of chips” based on remembering previous situations. Thinking about how good it was, over and over again.

Using the brain… Thinking… It’s emotional hunger.

When I’m physically hungry though, it’s different. I will eat what I have ready and available because it’s in the moment, I’m actually hungry and satisfying that urge, that rumble in my tummy.

Feeling hunger pains… In my stomach… It’s physical hunger.

Do You Feel Guilt?

Emotional Hunger: often leads to regret, guilt, or shame. 
Physical Hunger: you’re unlikely to feel that because you’re just fueling your body.

Have you ever thought “this is not what I’m supposed to be eating” or “I should eat that”?

That’s the guilt and shame trying to work its way in.

I love the way MRC suggests dealing with these feelings:

If you find that you tend to beat yourself up over your choices, try replacing this negative self-talk with positive affirmations. Self-love may take some time to retain, but you have the strength to want to change, which is the first step!  Start slowly by admitting one thing you love about yourself.

Metabolic Research Center

I just so happen to have a Self Love Affirmations printable in this freebie library too…

Challenge, Recipes, & Habit Tracker Too

The community I mentioned in the video above is in my Free Resource Library if you already have access to that, or you can join below now.

Some things in the resource library now:

  • Tracker & Coloring Sheets For Kids
  • 25 Healthy Recipes Ebook
  • 21 Day Health Habit Tracker
  • 14+ Full-Length Workouts
  • 15 Kids Snack Recipes
  • Free Community
  • And So Much More…

Check out the free resource library here!!!

Want More Help with Physical Hunger vs Emotional Hunger Cues?

I’m taking people under my wing every month in our community or through business mentorship. You can do this all from the comfort of your home. We will all support each other and of course, I’ll be there to guide you as your coach.

Reach out and take the step, if you commit to joining the crew, it will be one of the best decisions you have ever made, learn more here!!

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