Emotional Hunger: What You Need To Know

April 30, 2019

As healthy as we are or want to be, we are all human, and so we have all experienced the classical battle between what is real hunger and emotional hunger. It’s more psychological than physical, sometimes we don’t even know what is going on!

In my opinion, to be able to differentiate between the two and listen to what our body really needs is something we should learn early on in school. But, since probably most of us haven’t been taught that, I am leaving you with this post to have a simple yet effective guideline from now on!

Emotional Hunger: What You Need To Know

Physical Hunger

Easy to recognize and it’s gradual. It can be stretched and it waits until lunch or dinner time, and it’s open to different kinds of foods (the most important thing is to get nutrition). It usually appears 4-5 hours after your last meal as a physical need, and it stops when your body is full. Quite normal, isn’t it?

Emotional Hunger

It’s more psychological, coming from your emotional state.

You can recognize it because it’s sudden. One moment you are not thinking about food at all, and then you are just urgently craving something to eat and wishing to be in the kitchen right way. Not to eat just anything… you are craving specific food! Something salty and crunchy, or cheesy and creamy, or sweet. Not any food will do for your emotional hunger.

This type of hunger usually shows up with a specific emotion, too. Perhaps it appears when you are feeling upset about work, or nervous about the phone conversation you just had, or anxious about next week’s trip’s preparations.

Negative emotions become a trigger you are trying to cover up with food (usually unhealthy foods!), it is key to recognize this to not fall into unhealthy behaviours. This is the best moment to try different stress-management techniques, such as yoga, meditation, journaling, dancing, etc.

Another important characteristic about emotional hunger is that you end up eating more than necessary – aka, you don’t stop eating when you are full, and easily fall into binging behaviour – and in a very automatic, mindless way. You are on autopilot!

Of course, this doesn’t end up making you feel better after eating, but rather negative, guilty, and even sick with a full stomach. Guess what? Eating didn’t stop your anxiety or bad feelings, so they come back again!

Having said all this, the best things you can do are:

  • To learn how to recognize your type of hunger.
  • To nourish yourself when you have real, physical hunger.
  • To notice when it’s emotional hunger what you are feeling, and choose to practice a stress-management technique instead.
  • Try different things to learn what works best for you: going for a jog, meditating, painting mandalas, stretching, writing in your journal, or talking to a friend.
  • If emotional hunger is really present in your life and you struggle to manage your negative feelings with something else other than food, make a visual board or write a letter to yourself with encouraging words, tips, or reasons to not fall into that trap. Put it somewhere visible and read it to avoid bad habits and temptations.

Finally, if you want a helping hand, do not be afraid to look for help, counselling, or working with a health coach. Everyone is different and we all need some guidance from time to time. Above all, aim to give your body-mind the balance and nourishment you deserve!

About the Author

Cristina Santos

Plant based nutrition Personalized balance - body, mind, spirit

Lleida - Barcelona

Cristina is a writer and dietetics student from Spain. After going vegan in 2015, she discovered the many benefits of plant-based wellness and nutrition and...

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