Emotional Hunger vs. Physical Hunger: How to Tell the Difference

Do you ever find yourself upset and reaching for ice cream? Or stressed out and reaching for your favorite bag of chips? If yes, you know what it means to emotionally eat. It is very common to turn to food for comfort when emotions are high, but the more this happens the harder it may be to differentiate between eating due to emotions versus due to actual hunger cues. Let’s talk about how to tell the difference!

Physical Signs of Hunger

Our bodies give us a lot of signs to let us know when we’re hungry. These can be as obvious as a growling stomach or shakiness, or more discrete such as a shift in mood or lack of energy. Headaches, lightheadedness and brain fog can also be signs your body is in need of food. Eating shortly after your body gives you hunger cues is a good way to ensure your body keeps giving you these cues. If you frequently ignore them, whether that be not eating when you’re hungry or eating often when you aren’t actually hungry, this can lead to becoming out of touch with your body and its physical signs of hunger. 

What to do Instead of Emotional Eating

The first step is to identify your emotion. Once you do that, you can start to think of other ways to handle it. For example, if you’re feeling stressed out, maybe you can try journaling or taking a walk instead of eating. If you’re sad, you can try talking to a friend or watching a funny show. Yes, this is definitely easier said than done, but being in tune with your emotions is never a bad skill to work on! 

What to Do After Emotional Eating

If you do find yourself emotionally eating, give yourself grace. You’re human and it’s normal to feel emotion, it’s also normal to turn to food for comfort! Do not restrict meals or think you have to feel guilty for it after the fact. Sometimes we have to fuel our soul just as much as we fuel our bodies!

Learning to listen to your hunger cues will help you to properly fuel your body and feel more confident with your food choices. If you find you struggle with emotional eating, schedule a call with Alli to learn more about ways to gain control back. 

This article was written by Lindsey Moser, nutrition intern. Fact checked by Allison Tallman RD.

Posted in