Physical vs Emotional Hunger

Physical hunger is when the body needs for food. Emotional/Psychological hunger is when you’re upset and find comfort by eating something. The hormone ghrelin is responsible for feelings of physical hunger. When ghrelin levels rise, the body is signalling to the brain to look for food, which causes a feeling of hunger. Emotional hunger is not associated with ghrelin increases.

Emotional hunger may occur out of habit, or because you see good food around you. Experts recommend treating emotional hunger by first recognizing the triggers around you. For some, it may be limiting exposure to those triggers or come up with healthier, alternative behaviors for dealing with it. Some people may need psychological counseling to get to the root of their emotional hunger and develop healthy coping strategies.

While giving into occasional emotional hunger isn’t a huge deal - the occasional pick-me-up, a celebration, or as a reward. When eating becomes a primary coping mechanism for any type stress, you can enter an unhealthy cycle where the real root of the problem is never addressed.

Help Guide, a mental health and wellness resource, put together several questions to ask yourself if you think you might have an emotional eating disorder:

  • Do you eat more when you’re feeling stressed?

  • Do you eat when you’re not hungry or when you’re full?

  • Do you eat to feel better?

  • Do you reward yourself with food?

  • Do you regularly eat until you’ve stuffed yourself?

  • Does food make you feel safe? Do you feel like food is a friend?

  • Do you feel powerless or out of control around food?

Below is a guide that may help you to distinguish the difference between your physical and emotional hunger:

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Read more: Types of Diets

Hannah Nourie