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Differences between physical hunger and emotional hunger: eating without need passes bill

Differences between physical hunger and emotional hunger: eating without need passes bill

September 10, 2022

Hunger is an instinct of all animals, including the human being. It is a need of first rank that pushes us to direct our actions towards the achievement of a very simple objective: to look for and consume food.

But, Can we really eat without being hungry, even if you feel that you do? It may sound strange, but this can happen: our eating habits are not only based on the objective needs of the body, but also on our beliefs about how much is normal to consume each day and what is not.

In this article we will talk about that curious phenomenon by which we are able to create the need to eat automatically and without our stomach demanding it. It is what is known as emotional hunger .

  • Maybe you're interested: "The 10 most common eating disorders"

The 4 differences between emotional hunger and physical hunger

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

1. Mode of appearance

On the one hand, Physical hunger gradually increases , and normally the individual has control over what they eat, so they can make nutritious decisions to feed themselves.

Emotional hunger, on the other hand, appears abruptly and demands immediate satisfaction, and looking only for certain "comfort foods" like desserts, chocolate or any food with sugar.

2. Its causes

Physical hunger is caused by something very simple: our body needs material to keep functioning and in good condition.

Emotional hunger is a search for pleasure or to "fill a void" . It is very common when you have too much stress, anxiety, you feel alone and depressed, or on the contrary, when you feel euphoria or excessive happiness as in a party, wedding, Christmas or New Year, etc.

There are several theories that seek to explain this phenomenon. One of them talks about the memories that are left in the subconscious when children rewarded us with sweets and this was a symbol of affection, therefore eating these foods reminds us of this feeling.

Another theory is that we seek to eat sugar for the simple fact that elevates our levels of hormones that generate pleasure, such as serotonin .

3. The feeling that they leave

Normally after consuming food due to emotional hunger, there is a feeling of guilt, regret or shame; as leads to overeating and binge eating .

This happens in contrast to physical hunger, which, at the moment of satisfying it, produces a sensation of well-being and satisfaction.

4. Ease with which they are sated

Emotional hunger is much more difficult to satiate; although sweets or desserts are consumed, the positive effect is short-lived and in a few hours, it reappears. This is because it is not a physiological need that can be met with food, but an affective need.

Of course, with physical hunger every meal eaten does count, and leaves us sated for hours.

How to fight emotional hunger?

The first step to combat this is to identify, at the time when we are hungry, what type it is.

If it's physical, no problem we can rationalize and choose what can best nourish us and satisfy. On the other hand, if it is emotional, it would be important for us to detect what feelings or emotions have triggered it and to control our impulses so as not to eat junk or things with a large amount of sugar. In this case, try to stabilize our need to eat and choose to eat some fruit, vegetables or just a glass of water.

A strategy to control emotional hunger is learn to control your emotions , not to follow them the moment they appear, since they will lead us to take the less favorable decision to feel satisfied.

Going for a walk, taking fresh air, meditating, calling a close friend or a relative, listening to music or any activity that is relaxing for us is useful to calm down and make the hunger go away little by little without having to resort to a binge .

Another option a little more practical is make a menu for the week . It does not have to be a diet, only serve as a guide and try to stick as much as possible to it, without bingeing. It is important that food planning be done at a time of emotional stability, to select foods rationally and not emotionally. At the moment of feeling "hungry" and not knowing what it is, it is good to ask yourself if at that moment you would eat an apple, cucumber, tuna, if the answer is no, and instead, you crave something with a lot of sugar, probably what are you experiencing emotional hunger.


Everyone has at some point eaten without being hungry really, and there's 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 an impact on the figure and therefore on self-esteem, can also lead to illnesses due to an unbalanced diet.

If this can not be solved individually, psychologists can be of great help to channel all these trapped emotions and help us lead a fuller and, above all, healthy life.

Do not eat your emotions!

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