Understand the Differences between Emotional Hunger versus Physical Hunger

Posted on April 17, 2014

If you are an emotional eater, it can be difficult to recognize if you are legitimately hungry or eating to band-aide an emotion. Below are some areas to be aware of that will help you determine if you are eating due to emotional hunger. 

  • Emotional hunger comes on suddenly. It hits you in an instant and feels overwhelming and urgent. Physical hunger, on the other hand, comes on more slowly. The urge to eat doesn’t feel as urgent or demand instant satisfaction (unless you have not eaten for a very long time).
  • Emotional hunger craves specific comfort foods. When you are physically hungry, most foods sound good—including healthy options such as vegetables. But emotional hunger craves fatty or sugary foods that provide an instant rush. You feel like you need cheesecake or pizza, and nothing else will do.
  • Emotional hunger often leads to mindless eating. Before you know it, you have eaten a whole bag of chips or an entire pint of ice cream without paying attention or fully enjoying it. When you are eating in response to physical hunger, you are typically more aware of what you are doing.
  • Emotional hunger is not satisfied once you are full. You keep wanting more and more, often eating until you are uncomfortably full. Physical hunger, on the other hand, does not need to be stuffed. You feel content when your stomach is full.
  • Emotional hunger is not located in the stomach. Rather than a growling belly or a hunger pang in your stomach, you feel your hunger as a craving you cannot get out of your head. You are focused on distinct textures, tastes, and smells.
  • Emotional hunger often leads to regret, guilt, or shame. When you eat to satisfy physical hunger, you are unlikely to feel guilty or ashamed because you are simply giving your body what it needs. If you feel guilty after you eat, it is likely because you recognize that you are not eating for nutritional purposes.

Written by: Emily Paxton, MA, LMHC, RD

Emily is a Licensed Mental Health Therapist and Registered Dietitian at Groff and Associates Professional Counseling.  She has over ten years experience counseling patients, with eating disorders.  She has also worked with and has a passion for families dealing with parent/child relations or trauma.  If you are interested, in seeing a counselor, for help, in these areas, contact Emily

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NzE6Imh0dHA6Ly9ncm9mZmFuZGFzc29jaWF0ZXMuY29tL3dwLWNvbnRlbnQvd29vX3VwbG9hZHMvMy1ncm9mZl9oZWFkZXIucG5nIjt9PC9saT48L3VsPg==