Differences between physical and emotional hunger: unnecessary eating takes its toll

Hunger is an instinct of all animals, including humans. It is a need of the first order that prompts us to direct our actions towards the achievement of a very simple objective: to find and consume food.

But, Can we eat without really being hungry, even if we feel like we are hungry? It may sound strange, but it can happen: our eating habits are not only based on the body’s objective needs, but also on our beliefs about how much daily intake is normal and what is not.

In this article, we will talk about this curious phenomenon by which we are able to create the need to eat automatically and without our stomach requiring it. This is called emotional hunger.

    The 4 differences between emotional and physical hunger

    To know what the nature of emotional hunger is, there is nothing like comparing it to “normal” hunger.

    1. Mode of appearance

    On the one hand, physical hunger gradually increasesAnd generally, the individual has control over what he eats, so that he can make nutritional decisions for himself.

    Emotional hunger, on the other hand, arises suddenly and demands immediate satisfaction, and looking for some “comfort food” like dessert, chocolate or any other sweet food.

    2. Its causes

    Physical hunger is caused by something very simple: our bodies need material to stay functional and in good condition.

    Emotional hunger is a quest for pleasure or to “fill a gap”. This is very common when you have too much stress, anxiety, feel lonely and depressed, or on the contrary, when you experience excessive euphoria or happiness like at a party, wedding, Christmas or New Years etc.

    There are several theories that seek to explain this phenomenon. One of them talks about the memories that remain etched in the subconscious when we were little, we were rewarded with candy and it was a symbol of affection, so eating these foods reminds us of that feeling.

    Another theory is that we try to eat sugar for the simple fact that it increases our levels of pleasure-generating hormones, such as serotonin.

    3. The feeling that they are leaving

    Usually, after consuming food out of emotional hunger, a feeling of guilt, remorse or shame arises; since leads to overeating and having binge eating.

    This works against physical hunger which, at the time of satiety, produces a feeling of well-being and satisfaction.

    4. Ease with which they are satiated

    Emotional hunger is much more difficult to satisfy; even if sweets or desserts are consumed, the positive effect is short-lived and in a few hours it reappears. Indeed, it is not a physiological need that can be satisfied with food, but an emotional need.

    Of course, with physical hunger, every meal we eat counts, and that leaves us tips for hours.

    How to fight against emotional hunger?

    The first step in combating this is to identify, when we are hungry, what type it is.

    If it’s physical, no problem we can rationalize and choose what can best feed us and satisfy. Instead, if it’s emotional, it would be important for us to detect the feelings or emotions that triggered it and control our impulses not to eat junk food or things with a lot of sugar. In this case, try to stabilize our urge to eat and choose to eat fruits, vegetables, or just a glass of water.

    One strategy for controlling emotional hunger is learn to control your emotions, Do not follow in their footsteps the moment they appear, as they will lead us to take the least favorable decision to make us feel satisfied.

    Going for a walk, taking in the fresh air, meditating, calling a close friend or family member, listening to music or any activity that is relaxing for us is helpful in calming us down and slowly making hunger go away. eat too much.

    Another slightly more practical option is make a menu for the week. There is no need to diet, just act as a guide and try to stick to it as much as possible, without overeating. It is important to plan meals at a time of emotional stability, to choose foods rationally and not emotionally. When it comes to being “hungry” and not knowing what it is, it is good to ask yourself if at this point you would eat an apple, a cucumber, tuna, if the answer is no and instead, it seems to be something with a lot of sugar, probably making you feel emotionally hungry.


    We have all eaten at some point without being hungry really, and there is no reason to be ashamed of it. But it is important that we take action so that it does not continue to affect us. Emotional hunger, in addition to having repercussions on the figure and therefore on self-esteem, can also lead to diseases due to an unbalanced diet.

    If this cannot be resolved individually, psychologists can be of great help in channeling all of these trapped emotions and helping us lead fuller and, most importantly, healthier lives.

    Don’t eat your emotions!

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