In this weeks blog I’m talking all things hunger, namely the difference between emotional and physical hunger. As you will know what we eat can have a huge impact on our health and wellbeing. It has the ability to either energise us or make us feel sluggish and fatigued.

Whenever you’re stressed out for example do you reach for food? When bored do you find yourself moving towards the snack cupboard?

Our emotional health is so entwined with our physical health even when it comes to eating, so what is the difference between emotional and physical hunger?

Emotional hunger is when you turn to food either to avoid uncomfortable emotions or to heighten pleasurable ones. It means you eat based on how you are feeling instead of what your body might actually need.

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Some signs of emotional hunger:

  • Eating for comfort or out of loneliness or sadness
  • Eating from boredom
  • Eating to try to soothe anxious or depressed feelings
  • Eating when stressed out
  • Always comes with specific food cravings which can be intense, like you must have it now, right now – e.g sweets, chocolate, bread
  • The desire to eat something will persist even when you have already eaten
  • Emotional hunger is almost always followed by some form of guilt or shame. You end up beating yourself up for eating what you did
  • Emotional hunger often comes on suddenly – e.g have you ever stepped out of a really stressful meeting and felt that urgent need to grab that chocolate bar?

Whereas physical hunger means you eat when your body signals to you that you are in fact, hungry.

Some signs of physical hunger:

  • Stomach growls and gets that hollow hungry sensation
  • Body feels weak and energy goes down.
  • Blood sugar gets low and you feel shaky
  • You feel lightheaded or faint
  • You are able to stop eating once full
  • It can be stopped with any type of food, so does not tend to involve any urgent cravings
  • Will come on gradually
  • You won’t tend to have the guilt or shame from eating what you did unless you found yourself overeating

With all this in mind it’s worthwhile getting in tuned with your body to recognise what it is actually asking for. In doing so it will mean you can feel more in control of what you are eating, and less likely to become dependent on food to “help” with how you are feeling.

You see if we eat for emotions our go to food sources tend to be of the processed, sugar filled variety – food cravings delight. We all know about the long term effects these types of food can have on us, so it’s far better to eat for physical hunger than emotional.

By tuning in and listening out for your physical hunger signals, you can determine how hungry or full you really are. You will also be able to ask yourself am I actually hungry or am I craving food for another reason?

With practice, you’ll be able to pinpoint where your body is at any given moment. This will train you to stop overeating to the point that you are too full, feel uncomfortable, bloated and sluggish. It will also help you stop turning to food when you are not actually hungry but are in fact bored, anxious, stressed, upset or depressed.

One way to help you tune in is by playing the hunger game. This is something I learnt through my health coaching training and like you thought what the hell is the hunger games, apart from a film about people killing one another!!!!

Well let me first clarify that I’m not talking about undergoing top-secret weapons training to learn to “kill” off your colleagues or friends… I’m talking about a simple, helpful game that you can play all by yourself even in a busy environment like work or a restaurant.

Here’s how you play the Hunger Game:

  • Next time you feel hungry look for the signs. Are you actually physically hungry or has something stressed you out? If the physical signs are there then it’s time to eat
  •  Learn to eat your food slower. If in a restaurant or eating with friends or family see if you can be the slowest eater at the table — no one has to know you’re playing or that you’re trying to win the Hunger Game. Eating slower is actually far better for our digestive system
  • Periodically check in with yourself throughout your meal and honour when you’re actually energised and satiated. This may mean you don’t eat everything on your plate! (We have been programmed to think we must not waste food, therefore must finish our plate – I’ll leave this topic for another day though)

It’s worth noting here to never ignore your physical hunger signs otherwise you run the risk of getting “Hangry”. This is when you start to feel irritable because you haven’t eaten. It is also when we tend to make poor food choices because we just need to eat and we need to eat now.

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In my health and wellness coaching practice, I help my clients learn to tell the difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger. We look at the stressors that maybe causing the emotional hunger and together we come up with a plan that works for you, helps manage your weight leaving you feeling energised, less sluggish and more confident within yourself.

If you think you may be engaging in emotional eating and you don’t know how to change it, then click now to schedule a time to for us to have a chat.

Here’s to living well.

Until next time

Kelly x