Emotional Hunger vs. Physical Hunger
Written by: Dr. Kim Feinstein, Clinical Psychologist & Behavioral Weight Loss Specialist
In my last blog, I briefly touched on the issue of emotional eating. For many, feelings are the most compelling reason for eating inappropriately. This destructive habit often sabotages weight loss efforts and leads to weight gain.
In fact, research suggests 95-98% of diets fail due to emotional eating vs. physical appetite hunger. Furthermore, emotional eating erodes self-esteem by perpetuating feelings of guilt, shame, and inadequacy. If you are like most who have been fighting this fight and you are tired of the struggle, just remember you CAN take control!
Take a moment now and think about your own experience with food:
- Do you use food as a source of comfort or relief when you’re feeling sad, anxious, angry, bored, or lonely?
- Do you attempt to numb your feelings with food?
- Do you eat as a way to get through a difficult time (financial problems, relationship struggles, job loss, illness, etc.)?
- Do you celebrate with food?
- Do you reward yourself with food?
- Is eating your main source of pleasure in life?
More specifically, think about the last time you ate inappropriately and ask yourself these important questions*. To help, we’ve outlined an emotional eating test below:
Emotional Eating Quiz
- Did your hunger or urge to eat come on fast, or did it grow gradually?
- When you felt like eating, did you feel an almost desperate need to eat right away?
- While eating were you paying attention to what or how much you were eating or did you just stuff it in? Was your eating fast and/or frenzied?
- Did you crave something specific? (You are more likely to choose “trigger foods” to satisfy an emotional need).
- Did you feel guilty or remorseful after eating? Did it make you want to keep eating because you “blew it anyway?”
Now let’s review your answers!
- Emotional hunger comes on suddenly, while physical hunger develops more gradually. Physical hunger begins with physical appetite symptoms (i.e., hunger pangs, headache, etc.), which is very different from emotional hunger. Emotional hunger typically has a sudden and dramatic onset.
- Emotional hunger demands food immediately, and it wants immediate gratification, whereas physical hunger will wait for food.
- A significant difference between emotional hunger and physical appetite hunger is mindfulness. Mindfulness is all about paying attention and being aware. When you are eating in response to physical hunger, you are more inclined to maintain awareness of what and how much you are putting in your mouth. Conversely, when you are satisfying emotional hunger, you are rarely mindful of what’s being eaten and you eat in a fast and frenzied manor.
- Emotional hunger often demands fatty foods or sugary snacks that provide instant relief. You feel like you need chocolate, ice cream or pizza, and nothing else will suffice. If you’re eating in response to physical hunger, even healthier foods appear delicious.
- Emotional hunger often leads to regret, guilt, or shame. When you eat to satisfy physical hunger, you’re unlikely to feel guilty or ashamed because you’re simply giving your body what it needs. If you feel guilty after you eat, it’s likely because you know deep down that you’re not eating for nutritional reasons.
If you missed it last month, here is a chart to help you differentiate emotional hunger vs. physical hunger.
Did your answers to the above questions reveal that you might be an emotional eater? Did you discover that you have been confusing emotional hunger with physical hunger? If so, we now want to understand why! What drives your emotional eating habits?
Check back very soon for my next blog when I dive deep into what has caused this emotional eating lifestyle and tips and tricks on how to beat the evil mind game!
*Adapted from Gould, Roger (2007). Shrink Yourself: Break free from emotional eating