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Is your hunger emotional or physical?
Learn to identify the difference.

Written by Dr. Salim Olabi | Medically reviewed by Editorial Team
Last updated on: March 18, 2023

Emotional hunger is still a topic that has been gaining prominence in discussions about mental health, weight gain and illnesses. The act of eating is not just related to satisfying hunger or nutrition, the emotional side is also present. All of our foods choices end up influencing our actions and reactions in a positive or negative way, our food choices provide different sensations, memories and emotions. When eating in reaction to an emotion, this mechanism tends to be automatic and the choices also tend to be based on taste, such as sweets and highly palatable fats, which end up being consumed in large portions and it was from this reflection that the term “emotional hunger” emerged.

Emotional hunger is independent of the individual's energetic and nutritional needs, expressed by the desire to eat according to the emotional state. It is usually linked to negative emotions, stress or when we reward ourselves for small everyday victories.

Physiological hunger or real hunger arises when the body has to supply the energetic and nutritional needs, essential to its proper functioning through food, it is not linked to any specific food.

How to identify emotional hunger?

The main indications that it is out of control are the urgent desire to eat, the ingestion of food with voracity or in great quantity and difficulty to control or the sensation that it satisfies nothing. In practice, it is like the representation "live to eat" and not "eat to live". Know how to differentiate and ask yourself if it is really physiological hunger.

Emotional hunger:

1. Suddenly appears

2. The ingestion of a type of food that represents a "comfort"

3. Urgent need, it is not possible to wait for the meal

4. It does not stop eating, even if satiated

5. It disappears when some distraction arises with another activity

6. It causes negative sensations after the meal, such as guilt and frustration

Physiological hunger

1. It appears gradually

2. The ingestion of a meal or snack is more complete and varied

3. As it manifests gradually, it is usually possible to wait a while to eat

4. When satiated, you no longer feel the need to eat

5. It does not disappear when performing another task

6. It causes positive sensations after eating, such as pleasure and well-being

How to treat emotional hunger?

Food can serve as a momentary relief, but it is not a treatment for emotional hunger. Those who suffer from this compulsion and do not pursue solutions and treatments may end up losing the ability to deal with their emotions and gaining weight and compromising their health. In this case, an incorrect diet combined with a lack of physical exercise can lead to several illnesses such as: hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, sleep apneas, cardiovascular problems, depression and anxiety.  It is advisable to seek professional help in these situations as a follow-up with a professional may be all you need to break these habits and improve your health.

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