Knowing the Difference between Emotional Hunger and Real Hunger

There are many quotes such as “Food is fuel, not therapy” and “Eat to fuel your body, not to feed your emotions” and so on. While these quotes sound nice, dealing with the actual problem is much tougher.

Millions of women around the world eat as a form of self-medication. They’re experiencing a range of emotions that they’ve not come to terms with or they’re subconsciously avoiding. Eating acts as a form of stress relief or temporary pleasure to numb the pain.

Emotional hunger is often mistaken as real hunger. No amount of eating can fill up the emotional void. It just worsens the situation because the woman gains weight, feels unattractive and experiences guilt and other negative emotions.

So, what does she do? She eats even more to feel better. It’s a vicious cycle that never ends unless one proactively seeks to end it. Mindful eating is one of the best ways to deal with this situation.

Before proceeding further, it’s important to know the signals of real hunger. When you are truly hungry on a physical level, your stomach will feel empty and you may hear rumbling or grumbling noises in your belly. You may feel lethargic, faint or even a mild headache. Some women may even feel nauseous.

Your moods may fluctuate for no reason and you might be more irritable or prone to anger. If you’re working, you may find it hard to concentrate. These are the symptoms of real hunger. If you find yourself experiencing them, it’s time for a meal.

Now let’s look at emotional hunger. Emotional eating occurs due to certain triggers. It is extremely useful to have a food journal to write down what you eat and how you’re feeling while eating. Over a period of time, you’ll notice patterns emerge.

For example, you may find yourself snacking more whenever you’re facing tight deadlines at work. Or you might be binge eating at nights when you have marital problems or relationship problems with your spouse/partner. There will always be emotional triggers that make you reach for food to feel better.

There are a few questions that you MUST ask yourself whenever you want to eat.

  • Is it real hunger or am I just tired?
  • Am I thirsty or hungry?
  • Am I eating because I’m sad and lonely?
  • Is my stomach growling for food?
  • Am I eating to avoid doing some job that I need to complete?
  • Will I feel guilty after eating?
  • Am I bored and eating to occupy myself?

These questions will help you figure out what is the real reason you are eating when you aren’t really hungry. You must identify the root cause so that you can deal with the problem effectively and put an end to it.

If you’re eating because of relationship problems, a better alternative would be to see a professional therapist. If stress is making you eat, you’re better off with stress reduction techniques like meditation or watching a comedy. If it’s boredom, you can always pick up a new activity.

You may have noticed that when you’re having fun or very busy, it’s common to go hours without eating and not realize it. The mind is occupied and has no time to think about food until the stomach starts growling.

This should give you a clue about dealing with emotional hunger. If you feel like eating but know that you’re not hungry, you need to distract your mind. Engage in some activity that is interesting or fun. Do not vegetate in front of the TV. That is a passive activity that will encourage more eating.

You may wish to take a walk or read a book or even get a massage. Or you could try an interesting activity like learning the piano or playing a video game or volunteering at an animal shelter.

The goal is to alleviate your negative feelings by developing new positive ones. When you’re happy with your life, the chances of you eating uncontrollably will diminish.

Pay attention to your emotions and see how they affect your eating habits. Get straight to the root of the problem and find out what is triggering your emotional hunger and fix it without using food as a tool. Over time you’ll eat for fuel and not therapy. You’ll shed the excess pounds and look fitter and healthier.

About Jane Cook