Emotional Hunger vs. Physical Hunger

Have you ever used food to cope with stress or any other emotion? Sometimes people use food to avoid
emotional discomfort or distract themselves from distressing thoughts. First, take a few deep breaths,
and acknowledge that you’re human! It happens! Today, you are going to learn the difference between
two different types of Hunger: Emotional Hunger vs. Physical Hunger

I believe that food is meant to be a pleasurable experience, but for that to be the case, it is best done
mindfully. Emotional Hunger falls into the category of mindless eating as we engage in this behavior to
satiate an emotion or ease an unwanted thought, forgetting that food is not the answer to our internal
and external stressors.

The Difference Between Emotional Hunger and Physical Hunger

  • Emotional Hunger: suddenly appears, craves specific comfort foods, insatiable
  • Physical Hunger: builds gradually, often accompanied by physical sensations and emptiness in the
    stomach, disappears when full

To navigate the two, you’ll want to identify the emotion or thoughts behind the action and practice
alternative coping skills.

  1. Ask, am I hungry? Check in with a satiety scale. Figure out if the Hunger is physical or emotional. Could this hunger be satisfied with a meal?
  2. Identify the emotion behind the unwanted behavior.
  3. Try to find 3-5 coping skills you can use in its place. Here are some examples of a few coping skills
    that previous clients have found useful:

    • Get creative, indulge in your hobby of choice
    • Call a friend or loved one
    • Journaling
    • Movement

Coping skills are helpful because it creates separation from the emotion and the unwanted action (mindless/ emotional eating). Going for a walk around the neighborhood could be enough to bring one from their emotional mind to their wise mind (part of mind that is self-aware and intuitive). Remember that even with these tips, it takes time to create new habits. These are suggestions to get you started but working alongside a clinician can help you identify source of stressors and tailor coping skills appropriately. Try to take it easy on yourself and trust the process!


About Valine Ripes: 

Valine is a Resident in Counseling at Healthy Minds Therapy, PLLC. She graduated from George Mason University with a Masters of Education (M.Ed.) in Community Agency Counseling. She decided to become a counselor based on her own life experiences and how much counseling helped her. She aims to help clients find peace and process through challenges with a person-centered approach. To learn more about Valine, visit HERE.

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