The Two Kinds of Hunger and Why You Need to Know the Difference

Young hungry woman in front of refrigerator craving chocolate pastries.

Did you ever stop and wonder why do you eat?

As humans we eat food to provide our body with nutrients so we can have energy to do all that we do in a day.

Food is fuel to the body first and foremost but we also associate food with emotions.

Words like “comfort food” are associated with eating foods that make us feel good, for the moment anyway.

One of the things we have in common with every other culture on the planet is food.

Food is included and sometimes the highlight of most celebrations.

There is so many different foods available between grocery and convenience stores, restaurants, and fast food.

In this country we have access to food twenty-four hours a day seven days a week.

On one end we should be grateful that we have plenty but on the other end having access to so much food can be detrimental to our health.

You may not have control on what’s going on in the world around you but you do have the ability to get back in touch with your personal hunger cues.

In last week’s video blog I introduced the Hunger Scale.

This is a 1-10 scale where 1 is starving, 5 is neutral and 10 is stuffed.

I suggested that you use the hunger scale on a daily basis to help you to understand and manage your hunger.

Did you get a chance to rate your hunger this week?

If not, just tune in to your hunger rating right now?

Personally I am pretty hungry since my stomach is making a growling sound.

Therefore, I would rate my hunger around a 2 or 3.

This is because it is 6:45 am and I have not eaten breakfast yet and my stomach is signaling that it is time to eat.

I am experiencing an obvious (to me anyway) hunger cue but many people would not be tuned in to this type of hunger cue.

How many people do you know whose breakfast usually consists of a cup of coffee?

After many years of ignoring one’s hunger cues it is possible to lose the ability to interpret hunger cues or to be able to tell the difference between the two different types of hunger, physical and emotional.

Physical hunger is a true bodily need for food.

A growl, rumble, or empty feeling in the stomach is the signal that you are physically hungry.

This would be about a 1-4 hunger rating.

True physical hunger occurs every three to four hours which is when you should eat either a meal or snack.

The other kind of hunger is emotional hunger which is eating for other reasons than physical hunger like to deal with uncomfortable feelings.

In general when you experience emotional hunger you tend to crave either salty or sugary foods like potato chips or ice cream.

If you are experiencing emotional hunger you may notice your hunger rating is > 5 which means your emotions not your body wants food.  

What should you do to deal with emotional hunger?

The good thing with emotional hunger is that the desire to eat usually fades after ten minutes.

A simple way to tell if you are experiencing physical or emotional hunger is to wait a little while and if you are still feeling hungry then you are probably experiencing physical hunger.

What should you do when emotional hunger takes over?

Here are five tips to stop emotional hunger:

  1. Get out of the kitchen!

  2. Drink a couple of glasses of water.

  3. Go to the gym for a workout.

  4. Run or powerwalk around your home three times.

  5. Call a friend.

Being aware of physical and emotional hunger can help you to tell the difference between a true bodily need versus using food to deal with feelings.

This is essential for weight loss.

The next time you experience hunger give yourself a rating and then label your hunger physical or emotional.

If you think it is emotional hunger then just wait it out for ten minutes using one of the five tips above to stop emotional hunger.

Let me know in the comments below how do you deal with emotional hunger? Let me know if you try using any of the five tips to stop emotional hunger.

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