Mindful Eating: Physical vs. Emotional Hunger

One of the important things that you need to understand about eating is that it’s tied to the hunger cues that your body sends out when it’s telling you that it needs food. There are generally three types of hunger that you feel and those are natural hunger, thirst hunger, and emotional hunger.

Natural hunger is the most basic kind of hunger, you feel it when you get up and throughout the day as your body needs food and nourishment.

Thirst hunger is a little more tricky because it feels like but the mechanism for thirst is weaker than that of hunger it’s easy to get confused. The next time you’re feeling a little hungry try a glass of water instead, you’ll be surprised how often you’re just thirsty instead.

Emotional hunger is the last kind of hunger. This is also known as stress hunger because it comes on as a response to an emotional stressor. Have you ever felt upset and gone to the fridge for some comfort food? That’s emotional hunger taking control right there and it can create a dangerous and damaging relationship with your food and eating habits.

One of the keys to successful mindful eating habits is identifying which kind of hunger you’re experiencing and reacting appropriately. Natural hunger comes on slowly and you can, after a while, gauge when you’ll likely be feeling it based on when you last ate. It’s also the kind of hunger that will go away when you’re satisfied and you’ve eaten enough to satisfy your hunger. Emotional hunger on the other hand comes on quickly and drives you to grab whatever’s at hand regardless of whether it’s a good food choice or not. It will also stay even if you’re past satisfied because your hunger is a reaction to the emotion, not an actual need. The key to dealing with emotional hunger is recognizing it before it becomes a problem and removing the source of the emotional stress. This will have the overall effect of removing the unnatural hunger and help to maintain your healthy relationship that you’ve been building with your eating. However emotional hunger is powerful and you can’t always just wave away your problems with the snap of your fingers. You don’t have to feel like you’ve failed because you caved into emotional hunger, but you do need to recognize when it happens, what caused it, and take steps to prevent yourself from falling prey to it again in the future.

Alternatives to emotional eating

  • If you’re depressed or lonely, call someone who always makes you feel better, play with your dog or cat, or look at a favorite photo or cherished memento.
  • If you’re anxious, expend your nervous energy by dancing to your favorite song, squeezing a stress ball, or taking a brisk walk.
  • If you’re exhausted, treat yourself with a hot cup of tea, take a bath, light some scented candles, or wrap yourself in a warm blanket.
  • If you’re bored, read a good book, watch a comedy show, explore the outdoors, or turn to an activity you enjoy (woodworking, playing the guitar, shooting hoops, scrapbooking, etc.).

Sources:Food for Thought Professional Handouts 2006-2013;helpguide.org