Is Your Hunger Physical or Emotional?

April 27, 2020
Is Your Hunger Physical or Emotional?

By Scott Reisinger, PsyD, HSP
TriHealth Weight Management psychologist

We’ve all been there–eating at a celebration, eating because we feel stressed, eating because we feel lonely or just eating because we are bored. Emotional eating is an attempt to sooth or change our mood, not in response to physical hunger. It is something that we all do from time to time because it works. Although often for only a short time, the food and even the act of eating itself brings comfort or distraction. However, emotional eating doesn’t solve emotional problems, and if left unchecked, emotionally-driven eating can sabotage attempts at losing and maintaining weight loss.

How can I tell if I’m eating due to physical hunger or emotional hunger?

Physical Hunger Emotional Hunger 
Comes on gradually Comes on suddenly
Can usually be postponed Demands instant satisfaction 
Can be satisfied with many different food options Craves a specific food (i.e., sweet, salty, etc.) 
Stops once physically full  Is not satisfied, even when physically full 
Is independent of your mood  Is paired with an emotion (usually upsetting) 
Involves deliberate choices and awareness of eating  Often involves automatic or mindless eating 
Eating to satisfy physical hunger doesn't make you feel bad about yourself  Emotional eating often triggers feelings of guilt, shame and powerlessness 

So, what can you do? In general, learn to recognize true physical hunger. Identify your emotional triggers and attempt to identify what you are feeling in the moment prior to eating. Eliminate the threat—don’t keep unhealthy food around. Make sure you are eating a balanced diet throughout the day. Exercise regularly and make sure to get adequate rest.

If you feel that craving to eat, practice the rule of 5: Delay eating for 5 minutes and ask:

  • Am I physically hungry?
  • Where am I emotionally?
  • Am I just tired?
  • How am I likely to feel about myself after I eat this?
  • Is there a healthier option?

If you continue to struggle with emotional/stress eating, it may be time to seek professional help.

<.p>To schedule an appointment, call 513 862 4957.