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Emotional Hunger vs Physical Hunger


Emotional Hunger vs. Physical Hunger

Written by Rev Nutritionist, Rebecca Desousa


It is easy to mistake emotional hunger for physical hunger, but here are some differences:

Emotional hunger comes on suddenly and causes you to feel overwhelmed whereas physical hunger is more gradual and the urge to eat doesn’t feel as dire unless of course you waited too long to eat.


Most of the time emotional hunger craves junk food or highly palatable foods like pizza or cake and nothing else will do. Physical hunger, almost anything sounds good like fruits or vegetables.

Emotional hunger often leads to mindless eating and before you know it, you have eaten a whole bag of chips or tapped off the entire pint of ice cream without really tasting it or realizing you even ate the entire thing. When you are eating in response to physical hunger, you are typically more aware of what you are doing and eating.


Emotional hunger isn’t satisfied once you're full and you usually keep wanting more and more until you end up uncomfortably stuffed. Physical hunger you don’t need to be stuffed (doesn’t mean you don’t get to that point sometimes) but usually you eat until you are satisfied and when your stomach is full.


Emotional hunger is not located in the stomach, it is more of a craving you cannot get out of your head. You are focused on specific textures, tastes and smells of the food.

Emotional hunger often leads to guilt, regret or shame whereas physical hunger you are less likely to feel that way because you are simply giving the body what it needs. If you feel guilty after you eat, it is most likely because you know you are not eating for nutritious reasons or because you are physically hungry. It is more for emotional reasons.


You can identify those emotional eating triggers by seeing what is causing them, some of the common causes include:

  1. Stuffing emotions- eating because you are angry, fearful, anxious, lonely, resentful or shameful. AKA eating your emotions. While you are numbing yourself with food, you can avoid the difficult emotions you would rather not feel.

  2. Boredom or feelings of emptiness- You eat to give yourself something to do and relieve boredom or to fill a void in your life. You feel unfulfilled and empty and food is a way for you to occupy your mouth and your time. At the time it distracts you from what is really going on.

  3. Childhood habits- think back to your childhood memories of food…did your parents reward you with candy if you got good grades or with pizza after you scored a goal or cupcakes when you were feeling down? There habits can often carry into adulthood.

  4. Social influences- Getting together with others is a great way to relieve stress but it can also lead to overeating. It is easy to overindulge simply because the food is in front of you or because everyone else is eating or you may also overeat in social situations out of nervousness.

  5. Stress- When you have chronic stress your body produces high levels of cortisol, which triggers cravings for salty, sweet and fried foods (foods that give you a burst for energy and pleasure.)

Find alternative ways to emotional eating: call someone who always makes you feel better, play with your pet, look at photos that make you happy, dance to your favorite songs, squeeze a stress ball, go for a walk, have a cup of tea, take a bath, wrap yourself in a warm blanket, read a good book, watch a funny show, explore the outdoors, try a new activity, etc.

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