How do you know if you are truly hungry or not? We eat for all kinds of reasons, and many of them have nothing to do with fueling our bodies when we are physically hungry. Why does it matter? Recognizing the difference between physical and emotional hunger may be standing between you and your ideal weight.
We eat when we are bored, nervous, tired, stressed, anxious, joyful, depressed, frustrated, or to celebrate an event. If you aren’t aware of the connection between your feelings and your food choices, you may be doing a whole lot of extra eating every day. Just 100 extra calories every day can add up to an unwanted 10 lbs by the end of the year.
How do you know if you are experiencing physical hunger vs. emotional hunger?
Physical hunger comes on gradually and progressively gets stronger, and it gives you clues such as a growling stomach. With emotional hunger, one minute you’re not thinking about food and the next minute you’re craving a specific food. Your hunger goes from 0-60 within a very short time.
Physical hunger is based in your stomach with rumbling, gnawing, and emptiness. Emotional hunger is “above the neck”, originating in your head. Physical hunger is patient, while emotional hunger is urges you to eat NOW to calm your emotions.
When you are physically hungry, you are aware of the food on your fork and can more easily stop when you are full. Emotional hunger is absent-minded as you are focused on the emotional trigger, and you may not even notice how much you’ve eaten until the container is empty.
When the intent behind eating is based in physical hunger, there’s no guilt or shame. With emotional eating, you may feel better while you are eating but often you feel guilty or ashamed afterward.
If you already know that you are an emotional eater, you are not alone! To gain control over your hunger and your food choices, start with simply observing your emotional state each time you eat. Begin with any snacking after dinner. If your stomach is still full after dinner, what is triggering you to eat more? If emotions are involved, it may be sabotaging your weight loss efforts.
To create new awareness around your food choices, use this physical hunger checklist when you get the urge to eat.
Physical Hunger Checklist
___ 3-4 hours have passed since your last meal.
____ You could wait 30 minutes if needed.
____ Your stomach is rumbling/growling.
____ A variety of healthy foods are appealing.
____ Your emotional state is calm and positive.
If your emotions are controlling your hunger, consider making a list of non-food activities that will nourish you so that you have options other than food to meet your needs. Identifying what you need for self-care and seeking support from others will help you nip emotional eating in the bud once and for all.
Do you have strategies that have worked for you? If you do, please share them!