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Emotional vs. Physical Hunger

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The Difference Between Emotional and Physical Hunger

By Stephanie Pollock Fox

Have you ever felt hungry, but knew you did not need food? This is the difference between experiencing Emotional and Physical hunger. We all have emotional and physical hungers that are felt and satisfied in our bodies differently. Physical hunger can be experienced as stomach gurgles, light-headedness, a decrease in energy, or inability to think clearly. Emotional hunger can be felt as emptiness in the body, yet one does not need food. Emotional hunger can be satiated through walks, talks, communication, connection, baths, massages, pets, loved ones, friends, family, dancing, and whatever else fills your soul and supports you in feeling re-connected with YOU.

When trying to fill an emotional hunger with food, we tend to have precise cravings and choose specific foods. These cravings can arise based on past experiences with those foods that made us feel happy, joyful, peaceful, or calm and we then can believes that same food will alleviate any feelings of emptiness, loneliness, or despair in the present. For example, an individual may reach for ice cream to bring sweetness and comfort into a moment when feeling lonely and not wanting to address emotions that might be needing some attention. No matter how much food an individual eats when feeling emotional hunger, that hunger will never be filled or satiated. Emotional hunger is nourished differently.

How do we differentiate between emotional and physical hunger?

1. Before you are about to eat, ask yourself how physically hungry you feel on a scale of 1-10. This will begin the process of noticing whether you feel physical hunger or a gnawing sensation of emptiness.

2. If you discover you are not physically hungry, you can reflect on what would emotionally satiate you that isn't food. Create a list of all the things that emotionally fulfill you so you can reference it in these moments.

3. If you are physically hungry, tune into what your body is saying it wants. Does it want something warm or cold? Smooth or chunky? Raw or cooked? When you are truly physically hungry, your body will always guide you in what will be most supportive to your system at that time.

We can cultivate a deeper relationship with ourselves when we bring awareness to our thoughts and emotions before a meal so we can choose in the moment what would appropriately satisfy. During this process of checking in, we can release judgement and adopt the perspective of a scientist exploring our body's messages and collecting information. There is no "wrong" way to eat, and every hunger cue can be an opportunity to connect back with ourselves.

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