I bet I don’t even have to define it. I bet – intuitively – you know what I’m talking about when I mention Emotional Hunger and how it differs from Physical Hunger.
The journey of health is just that: a journey. It’s journey of exploration, of learning, and of getting in tune with your body at multiple levels.
In the process of learning how to fuel our bodies, one thing I work on in almost every session with my clients is differentiating physical hunger from emotional hunger.
Physical Hunger Requires Food
Before understanding Emotional Hunger, we must first understand Physical Hunger. Physical Hunger requires food: it’s your body letting you know it used up the fuel you gave it last and it’s ready for more.
Physical Hunger has different signs. These vary from person to person; some common signs of Physical Hunger include:
Empty feeling in your stomach
Irritability (known in our house as “hanger”)
Craving for all things (especially foods high in fat and sugar)
If you’ve dieted frequently in the past, restricted food (or certain types of food) for any reason, or have a history of skipping meals (such as due to long work hours or with certain types of fasting), you might be unfamiliar with your body’s signs of physical hunger.
It’s very common to not notice – or rather, to not understand – your body’s hunger cues if you’ve had this history. Don’t worry; you’re not alone. There’s nothing wrong with you. You simply need to re-learn how to listen to the signal from your body (if that seems scary to do on your own, I can help).
Re-learning these signs from your body which alert you to Physical Hunger is the first step towards understanding the difference between Physical and Emotional Hunger. Because Physical Hunger must be fed with food, it’s very important to be able to identify your body’s hunger cues.
Why you’re physically hungry, it’s time to eat!
Emotional Hunger is a Craving from Your Soul
Emotional Hunger differs from Physical Hunger: it’s a craving from your soul rather than your body. Because of this, using food to soothe Emotional Hunger is only a temporary solution; food for Emotional Hunger is a bandage on top of a wound which really needs proper treatment.
Once you’ve checked in with your body to identify signs of Physical Hunger – and have eaten or not eaten accordingly – it’s time to check in with your soul to see what you are really craving.
Like Physical Hunger, signs of Emotional Hunger vary from person to person; these are some signs of Emotional Hunger:
Feeling lonely or missing a loved one
Feeling very tired or unmotivated
Feeling anxious or worried
Feeling overwhelmed or stressed
Feeling angry, frustrated, or annoyed
Feeling empty or spent from caregiving
Everyone experiences Emotional Hunger; acknowledging these feelings exist is the first step in feeding your Emotional Hunger.
One of the challenges to identifying Emotional Hungers is that our world expects happiness. When someone asks, “How are you doing?” we’re taught the correct answer is: fine. But sometimes you’re not fine. And it’s okay; it’s a normal part of life to have off days and need intentional self-care to refill your bucket.
Recognizing you have an Emotional Hunger is not indicating you’re doing something “wrong” or that something is “wrong” with you. It simply means it’s time to step back, observe how you’re doing and what you need, and feed this Emotional Hunger properly.
How to Feed Emotional Hunger
Feeding your Emotional Hunger will vary based on what your soul is craving: it might be craving community. It might be craving rest. It might be craving joy, music, or laughter.
Often, as we’re taught in our culture, we feed Emotional Hunger with food:
Broke up with your boyfriend? Eat a pint of ice cream.
Frustrating day at work? Let’s go get pizza and blow off some steam.
Kids exhausting you? Dig into the candy bowl after they go to bed.
Now, if you’ve feed Emotional Hunger food before, please don’t feel bad. Food (especially sugar) is comforting and our brain responds by releasing happy hormones. The choice to eat is a common – and normal – coping mechanism.
But it’s important to remember that Emotional Hunger is not the same as Physical Hunger. Emotional Hunger might be quieted momentarily by a bag of chips or bowl of ice cream, but you can’t meet your deep need for human connection in a bag of sugar.
To truly nourish your body and your soul, you must pause and consider what your body is really trying to tell you:
Broke up with your boyfriend? You probably need some social connection with people who love you – maybe you need to call a friend.
Frustrating day at work? Some endorphins and fresh air would probably help. Why don’t you take a walk around the block and then see how you feel.
Kids exhausting you? I bet you need to fill up your bucket, which you probably emptied to take care of others. Maybe a warm bath, some slow, gentle yoga, your favorite book, or a simple breathing exercise.
When you’re able to identify Emotional Hunger and feed your soul what it’s really craving, you’ll find you no longer have to fight yourself to stop snacking – because you’re feeding yourself what you truly need.
Your Journey to Nourishing Body and Soul
Understanding Emotional Hunger is essential to fueling your body well in every sense: physically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually. Each of these needs requires something a little different. Redirecting emotional eating is not about deprivation; it’s about honoring your emotion, your hunger, and learning to trust your body to tell you what it needs.
This afternoon – or this evening, or tonight – when you’re craving that chocolate bar or find yourself staring into your refrigerator’s abyss, I want you to take a moment to step back and pause. Ask yourself: what am I hungry for? If the answer is food, then eat. You always have the right to fuel your body; nobody should take that away from you.
But if the answer is something other than a physical hunger, consider something else. Ponder what your body – what your soul – might be yearning for and try feeding it what it needs.
I know this isn’t easy. This practice of learning – and trusting – your body takes time. It takes space. It takes the right community around you.
I hope you try it, though. The freedom from dieting, the freedom from guilt, the freedom to respect your body – it’s worth it all. If you’d like someone to walk with you, I would be honored to journey with you; schedule a complimentary discovery call to get started.
I’ll leave you with a slight twist on a popular prayer: May you have the serenity to accept the hunger cues your body tells you, the courage to respond appropriately, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Ann from Peas & Hoppiness