We eat for lots of different reasons, entertainment, comfort, to satiate a craving or physical hunger. If you struggle with emotional eating it can be difficult to tell when you’re physically hungry v. craving a particular food or eating to cope with emotions. Yet ultimately food can soothe your physical hunger and a grumbling stomach but it can’t heal or feed your emotions. Often eating to cope with our emotions leaves us feeling depressed, anxious and guilty. To begin identifying if you are physically hungry consider the different types of hunger we all experience and try to identify which type of hunger you are feeling;
“Hunger” can be divided into 3 categories; cravings (or emotional hunger) appetites and hunger.
Cravings (Emotional Hunger) you may find yourself craving a particular food, this type of hunger comes on suddenly. You may or may not have physical cues that you are hungry such as a grumbling stomach. This type of hunger is often a response to a stressful or overwhelming event such as an argument with a spouse or disappointing news at work. You may find yourself eating a lot of food very quickly or mindlessly such as a bag of chips or several cookies.
Appetite when presented with stimuli such as fresh baked chocolate chip cookies or the smell of pizza you may find yourself wanting to eat this type of food. However, unlike emotional hunger you are craving a food in response to your physical appetite being stimulated and not the desire to soothe or distract from your emotions. When our appetite is stimulated we are typically able to eat and enjoy a single serving of food such as a cookie or slice of pizza.
Hunger (physical hunger) comes on slowly and there are physical cues that our body uses to tell us it’s hungry. These cues might include starting to think more about food, a grumbling stomach or if we’re extremely hungry feelings of fatigue or low energy. Becoming more aware of your body’s physical hunger cues can help you identify when you are feeling physically hungry.
You can start to become more mindful of your physical v. emotional hunger by keeping a food journal. The next time you find yourself experiencing the desire to eat take a moment and scan your physical body; do you notice any hunger sensations? How full does your stomach feel? Are you craving a specific food or do a variety of foods sound good? Write down any physical hunger cues that you notice (or if you don’t notice any physical hunger cues pay attention to your emotions; are you bored, lonely or anxious?) As you begin to track your emotions and physical hunger cues you will get better at identifying when you are physically v. emotionally hungry and as you develop the ability to identify your emotional hunger you can learn and develop new skills to cope with and soothe your overwhelming emotions and nurture yourself.