What is Emotional Hunger?

How many times have you eaten without needing it and have you felt guilty afterwards? Find out more about this phenomenon known as emotional hunger.

Think about the last few times you have eaten throughout the day: were you really hungry? Did you deliberately choose the most appropriate foods to eat? Most people are not used to hearing the body’s sensations, and this disconnection can lead to what is known as emotional hunger.

At some point, every human being has eaten impulsively and excessively, either alone or in a social environment. These binges that last a few minutes later lead to a feeling of regret for not being able to control that need. For some people, this becomes a normal dynamic that creates serious problems.

Characteristics of emotional hunger

Emotional hunger occurs when you disconnect food from its nutritional function and begin to use it as a regulator of your emotions. You lose sight that what you eat has to be a source of energy for the body and you attribute other inappropriate functions to food. Thus, emotional hunger is mainly characterized by two aspects that will be analyzed below.

Need to eat, even without feeling physiological hunger

How many times have you eaten more, knowing that you were already satiated or that you had eaten food for a short time? The temptation to go to the fridge when bored, sad, or anxious becomes a compelling need for those who are emotionally hungry. Similarly, any celebration or celebration is accompanied by an excessive intake that has little to do with real hunger.

Guilty feeling

Unfailingly, after these binges, comes regret. And, in the short term, emotional eating can alleviate negative moods. However, in the long run, it can lead to obesity and other health problems. Therefore, when you become aware of what you have done, you can feel guilty.

How to differentiate emotional hunger from physiological hunger?

Differentiating emotional hunger from real (or physiological) hunger is not always easy. However, there are some guidelines that you can look at to learn to distinguish between the two states.

The real hunger is emerging progressively and increases as time passes since your last meal. It is a physiological sensation that begins in the stomach and allows you to decide, consciously and deliberately, what food to eat. So when you eat out of real hunger, you opt for nutritious and healthy options.

On the contrary, emotional hunger appears suddenly and suddenly. It manifests as an urgent need to eat that arises in mind, from the mental representations of food. The urge is so strong that you are not able to control what you eat and how much. You automatically go to ultra-processed foods with little nutritional value.

What factors trigger emotional hunger?

Emotional hunger is triggered, mainly, by the inability to listen to one’s own body. In general, it appears when not knowing how to distinguish the physiological sensations of hunger from other emotional manifestations of anxiety, sadness or anger. Thus, this confusion can lead to the belief that one is hungry when it is not.

On the other hand, the lack of emotional management resources is also an important factor. Perhaps, you are aware that what you are feeling is anxiety and not hunger. However, if you do not know how to handle that emotion, bingeing appears as the only strategy to feel better.

How to avoid eating emotionally?

For all the above, if you want to stop eating emotionally, you have to solve the main causes. It would be easy to recommend that you eat less or choose healthier foods, but this will not be possible if the source is not addressed.

So, start by learning to connect with your interoceptive sensations. Listen to your body and make an effort to understand the message it wants to convey to you at all times.

On the other hand, you must acquire more adequate personal resources to manage your emotions. Relaxation techniques, physical exercise, or therapeutic writing can help.

Other habits that can help you control emotional hunger

Drink water

Sometimes it is possible to confuse thirst with hunger and, therefore, you overeat without needing it. So when you think you’re hungry, try having a glass of water. You will see that the internal sensation often calms down.

Eat calm and sitting

Mindful eating helps develop a healthier relationship with food. And, above all, it allows you to identify when you are satiated. Thus, before eating any food, sit in a quiet place without distractions that allows you to focus your five senses on the food and your body.

Identify if we are really hungry

Above all, learn to identify your feelings. Before eating something, ask yourself how you feel, how long it has been since you have eaten and if it is possible that what you are experiencing is not real hunger.

Say goodbye to emotional hunger

Emotional hunger hurts you physically and psychologically, as it affects your self-esteem and self-confidence. Improving the relationship you have with food and returning it to its nutritional function brings you closer to a better state of health and emotional well-being. It is a necessary effort that will bring you great rewards.

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