Physical Hunger vs Emotional Hunger

If there’s one thing that we all enjoy, its eating. For some people (like me), there are many times that we head to the snack’s cupboard when we are not really hungry.

In many cases, I am perfectly aware that hunger isn’t the reason for my snacking habit. But on some occasions, I have the mistaken belief that I am eating because I am hungry when I really am not.

In this post, I’ll discuss physical hunger vs. emotional hunger, and try to see if any clues can reveal a difference between the two motivations for eating. I am setting aside 2 weeks to investigate my own eating motivations to be able to present my case.

I won’t be reaching into the science books for this one, so I’ll make it a nice, easy read. I think that after 2 weeks of studying my own behaviors I should be able to submit some evidence for both types of eating habits.

Why Am I Bothering to Write About This?

Physical Hunger vs Emotional Hunger Image

For about the last five years I have watched my weight increase over that time. I have also noticed signs that my fitness levels have fallen well below average. There are simple activities today that make me breathless that never did five years ago.

I began to think about my increasing weight, and at first, I put it down to my lifestyle which is mainly sitting at a desk for the entire working week. At weekends and some evenings we head out, but we have walks rather than any demanding physical activities.

I have always believed that we are like engines and that a machine only needs fuel when it starts to slow down. But my eating habits haven’t echoed that philosophy. Instead of merely eating at my regular meal times I have given in to the temptation of snacks. My main two indulgences are potato chips and my favorite chocolate bar, the good ole’ Snickers.

I kind of get a craving to eat one or the other (or both), and then after eating them, I know that I shouldn’t have eaten them. But I have eaten them. Too late.

So, I am writing this post to try to identify why we (yes, you as well), surrender to snacks but believe that we are doing it because of hunger. It is seldom hunger… or is it?

Let’s find out!

All About Physical Hunger vs Emotional Hunger

When trying to determine if you are eating because of physical hunger or because of emotional hunger, it is clear that some guidelines are required. Below are some recognized signs that relate to each type of hunger:

Physical Hunger:

  1. Has a gradual feeling of emerging and can be easily ignored for a while if you are busy doing something else.
  2. Physical hunger has no real menu so almost any food that you like will satisfy this feeling.
  3. When physical hunger has been satisfied, it feels quite normal to stop eating.
  4. After eating a scheduled meal due to physical hunger, you have no feelings of guilt afterward.

Emotional Hunger:

  1. Emotional hunger has a habit of hitting you out of nowhere. One minute you are not hungry then suddenly you are.
  2. Specific foods get launched into your consciousness such as your favorite pizza or your favorite chocolate bar.
  3. Your snacking session extends beyond feeling full. You are eating to ease the craving rather than the hunger.
  4. After your eating session is over, you may have feelings of guilt about the food you have just consumed.

Are There Ways To Stop Emotional Eating?

Physical Hunger vs Emotional Hunger Image

There are indeed techniques available to curb these emotional hunger attacks. If your own situation is perhaps considered severe rather than casual, then speaking to your doctor could be advisable.

If seeing your doctor isn’t on the agenda at this stage, then I highly recommend Mindful Meditation. This practice allows you to become less anxious and gain more self-control over all areas of your life. The benefits are not immediate, so don’t expect overnight success. But stick with it, and you’ll reap many benefits.

If you have specific negative thought patterns, then these alone can be the possible trigger. Taking a look at how to Stop Debilitative Emotions will be well worth your time.

Learn to spot your own triggers for emotional eating. Make a written note of them when you identify them. Once you know what they are, you have the knowledge to fight back. When you notice them in the future, try to go do something else and put the thoughts to the back of your mind.

My 2 Week Self-Investigation Into Emotional Eating

For testing purposes, I referred to my findings as I described them in the section above. So I was analyzing my motivations for eating between meals based on:

  • Did the feeling of hunger come on gradually or more suddenly?
  • Was I happy to eat any kind of food, or did a particular food jump into my consciousness?
  • Did I have the feeling of stopping eating when I felt full or did I feel like continuing to eat?
  • Did I have any feelings of guilt after eating?

What I found after my 2-week test was actually quite obvious. My regular, main mealtime foods (breakfast, lunch and evening meal), rather neatly slotted themselves into the Physical Hunger category. Almost all my other eating sessions were automatically labeling themselves as being Emotional Eating.

I am not going to pretend that it was all so black and white though. There were certain times that I had eaten only a small lunch and an hour later I felt hungry again. Those instances were pretty difficult to analyze with a neutral opinion. My inner dialogue would immediately defend the hunger by saying that my lunch had been insufficient, while another internal voice would argue that in four hours time I’d be eating my main evening meal so I could just wait until then to eat.

Hunger is one of the prime instincts and is very hard to fight-off or ignore. On one or two occasions I ended up munching a Snickers and not knowing if I was hungry-eating or emotional-eating. Looking back with a more judging eye, I can most likely say that it was emotional eating.

Physical Hunger vs. Emotional Hunger Conclusion

So there you have it, my 2 weeks of self-examination are done, and it’s been quite revealing. There indeed are some clear signals that can tell us if we are choosing to eat because we are hungry, or only because we have some emotional need (or simply boredom is playing its games with us).

What I also wondered during my 2-week test was how much extra body weight I am carrying around thanks to my emotional hunger sessions. It is apparent that I am carrying a lot of excess body weight! The small, short-term happiness that emotional eating brings me is no doubt not worth the adverse side effects of gaining weight.

I am not a physical person either, as most of my day is spent seated at my computer. That lack of exercise along with my emotional eating is taking its toll on my health I am sure. But despite all the evidence I still continue to grab the bags and packets of goodies while my conscience continues shouting “No!”

Maybe it’s time for me to ease myself into a regular exercise regime and then tackle the emotional eating.

Emotional Eating: Food for Mood

From Visually.