We often think that hunger is hunger but the truth is there’s a very big difference between actual hunger and emotional hunger. The problem is because we’re living such fast paced lifestyles we’re never really stopping to check in with ourselves as to which hunger we’re actually feeling. Instead, we reach for the next meal or snack to satisfy the hunger and then move on with our day. However, if the hunger you’re experiencing is emotional hunger then it’s likely that the meal or snack won’t satisfy and you’ll still be searching for more.
In this week’s post we’re diving into the differences between emotional hunger and physical hunger, how to tell the difference and what to do when you’re feeling emotionally hungry.
Physical hunger comes on gradually and it rarely feels urgent, you can often wait the extra few minutes before needing to satisfy this hunger, this feeling often subsides in response to food and when you’re in this state you’re often open to a range of suggestions for what to eat. Finally, you’re less likely to experience guilt when physical hunger is at play.
Emotional hunger is more challenging to manage, it can often occur suddenly (or be planned for later on in the day) and requires instant attention. An individual experiencing emotional hunger is unlikely to be satisfied by a meal or a snack and will be often searching for more when they’re finished. Additionally, this type of hunger is likely to instil feelings of guilt once the food has been consumed. During this time individuals are more likely to be less open to food suggestions and will require comfort foods otherwise known as foods higher in fats, sugars and salt.
Learning your appetite cues and how you’re feeling at certain times before and after eating can help you to manage appetite, over eating and emotional eating. Generally, it’s important to never really allow yourself to get to a state of starvation as this point you’re likely to feel dizzy, weak and be experiencing low blood sugar levels. However, at the same time you want to avoid eating to a point where you’re really stuffed and need to lay down. These two extremes can de-sensitize you to your hunger and appetite related hormones. Consequently, ideally you want to aim to start eating when you’re feeling relatively hungry but not starving and you know that you could last longer if you needed to (however, ideally avoid delaying food at this stage). In contrast, ideally aim to stop eating when you’re feeling satisfied and pleasantly full with the knowledge you don’t need to eat anything else yet you could continue.
For some people getting to these targets can be really challenging particularly if you’re prone to eating until your stuffed you have experienced overriding your appetite cues and satiety hormones for too long. Therefore, in order to help get your appetite back in check try using a food and appetite diary, where by you record how you’re feeling before you eat and how you feel after you eat. If every time you finish eating you’re feeling pretty stuffed you know you require less food. In this case it’s best to slow down and as you’re coming towards the end of the meal check in with your appetite regularly. The slower you eat the more likely you are to feel satiated by the end of it.
Finally, if you’re struggling with emotional or stress eating please seek personalised advice as there are many tools which can help you.