No; it’s not just you who feels like you’re on a constant search for food to stuff your face. You're hungry. And uncontrollable hunger is a common trait among many of us, but have you ever stopped to wonder why that is?
There can be variety of reasons why our hunger can get the best of us. The most obvious one is clear; you probably really are genuinely hungry…
Maybe your stomach is empty, your blood glucose levels have dropped, and your hunger hormones are desperate to host a little get-together between your tummy and the nearest available snack.
However, there are other occasions when hunger isn’t driven by physical appetite at all. It might be an emotional trigger or craving that sets us off and can have some of us bellying up to the buffet line.
It doesn't help that the psychological ‘hunger’ we experience can also be intensified by well intentioned diets that are too restrictive, emotional loss or depression, overwhelming stress, and unexpected changes to our regular routine.
It's anything but difficult to mistake "psychological" hunger, with real, "physical" hunger, so I’d like to provide you with some common distinctions between the two. That way you can better tell the two apart the next time you’re hankering for a pig-out.
Physical Hunger versus Emotional Hunger
Your "physical" appetite is managed by the body through your hunger hormones. This process is innate to our survival. Our bodies prefer not to be totally depleted of fuel for any lengthy amount of time. In this way, we are preprogrammed to look for food whenever our bodies physically need it. Our "physical need" includes those times when the stomach is “running on empty” or your blood sugar has dropped.
"Emotional" hunger involves eating to pacify stress, depression, boredom, and the like. It depends on an idea or feeling. It's what happens when you see an enticing food advertisement, or notice the devilishly inviting scent of a local bakery. Hunger, in these two instances, is obviously not originating from your empty stomach or dropping glucose levels.
To further help you differentiate between physical and emotional hunger, I’ve outlined eight checkpoints you can use to help determine which one you may be experiencing.
1 - The first thing you have to do is stop to assess your hunger intensity. Wolfing down that “emergency” protein bar at the first inkling of hunger isn't really going to help you.
2 - Now that you've stopped to think about it; focus on where this hunger is originating from. Are you able to actually feel or hear your stomach grumbling? Has it been a while since your last meal, or did you skip an earlier one? Or, perhaps, you saw something you thought looked particularly tasty? Maybe you're tired, stressed, or particularly vulnerable and in need of comforting? Think about every one of these possible scenarios and truly focus on finding your hunger’s source.
3 – Next, pour yourself a tall, cool glass of water. Then, after a few minutes, assess how your hunger responds. Sometimes hunger can be mistaken for a simple case of mild dehydration. So tune in to your body and mind diligently.
4 - If you discover that your hunger originates from an emotional source, then make the decision to work through the emotion(s). Recognize and validate them. Try deep breathing, taking a walk, or having a really good stretch to improve your current state of mind; this will allow your psyche to concentrate on another option that does not involve emotional eating.
5 - If you're pretty sure that your body is in physical need of nourishment, do this one last thing: simply hold up a couple more minutes just to be sure.
6 – By now you can be genuinely certain of where your hunger originated from and respond appropriately.
7 - If it's source was true, physical hunger, then don't hesitate to eat a solid and nutritious meal. To fill up properly, your meal should be high in protein, fiber, and water. Eat mindfully, chew thoroughly, and savor every bite.
8 – Then, rinse and repeat this process at the next sign of hunger.
My Final Thoughts:
There are many reasons the feeling of hunger can manifest itself. The obvious reason being; you are physically famished and in need of some good grub fast!
However, oftentimes, there is a base emotion or psychological reason that may cause you to feel out of control or lacking. In my opinion, it’s this experience of hollowness or sense of lack that we mistake for physical hunger in an ill attempt to fill the void.
And, although I’ve given you this eight-point checklist to help you make sense of your hunger signals; emotional eating is much more complex than what this simple blog post can provide. That being the case, If you find yourself repeatedly falling victim to emotional eating, especially if it’s causing you to OVER eat constantly, it would be a good idea for you to reach out for professional help.
There are plenty of support groups, counselors and therapists, fitness and wellness professionals that all want you to succeed at living a full, and happy, and healthy life.
In the meantime, you can use this checklist again and again to keep tabs on your hunger and to help provide your body with what it really needs. And you can determine whether that’s emotional support or a good, hot, healthy meal.
You've this! Keep moving toward a better you!