Category: Mindfulness

    Emotional Versus Physical Hunger

    emotional hunger vs real hunger

    Emotional hunger can be powerful. As a result, it’s easy to mistake it for physical hunger. But there are clues you can look for that can help you tell physical and emotional hunger apart.


    • Emotional hunger comes on suddenly. It hits you in an instant and feels overwhelming and urgent. Physical hunger, on the other hand, comes on more gradually. The urge to eat doesn’t feel as dire or demand instant satisfaction (unless you haven’t eaten for a very long time).
    • Emotional hunger craves specific comfort foods. When you’re physically hungry, almost anything sounds good—including healthy stuff like vegetables. But emotional hunger craves fatty foods or sugary snacks that provide an instant rush. You feel like you need cheesecake or pizza, and nothing else will do.
    • Emotional hunger often leads to mindless eating. Before you know it, you’ve eaten a whole bag of chips or an entire pint of ice cream without really paying attention or fully enjoying it. When you’re eating in response to physical hunger, you’re typically more aware of what you’re doing.
    • Emotional hunger isn’t satisfied once you’re full. You keep wanting more and more, often eating until you’re uncomfortably stuffed. Physical hunger, on the other hand, doesn’t need to be stuffed. You feel satisfied when your stomach is full.
    • Emotional hunger isn’t located in the stomach. Rather than a growling belly or a pang in your stomach, you feel your hunger as a craving you can’t get out of your head. You’re focused on specific textures, tastes, and smells.
    • Emotional hunger often leads to regret, guilt, or shame. When you eat to satisfy physical hunger, you’re unlikely to feel guilty or ashamed because you’re simply giving your body what it needs. If you feel guilty after you eat, it’s likely because you know deep down that you’re not eating for nutritional reasons.
    Categories: behavioural psychology, Mindfulness

    Thinking About Food

    The more we learn about the different aspects of hunger we sometimes mistakenly begin to think of “Mind Hunger” as something that is a problem.

    Mind Hunger (as it’s come to be defined) is composed of thoughts about food and eating. For example:

    • Numbers such as: “ One slice of cheddar cheese has 113 calories.”
    • Facts such as: “One egg has more than your daily requirement of cholesterol.”
    • Instructions such as: “ You have got to stick to your diet. Do not eat anything that contains white sugar or white flour!“
    • Fears such as: “If you eat too much cholesterol you might have a stroke or heart attack.”
    • Criticism: If your Inner Critic creeps in, the thoughts in your mind about food and eating can take a very unpleasant and even destructive turn, such as: “You broke your diet by eating a piece of your niece’s birthday cake — you’re a hopeless failure.”

    When Mind Hunger takes charge, it can become a problem. This seems to happen when people lose connection to their internal sources of information about hunger and rely instead on external sources of control such as diets, calorie counting and frequent weight checks.

    Minds like Information

    Our minds “feed on” scientific and medical information. We like hearing about the latest research on healthy or unhealthy foods. However, that information is always changing. Eggs were ‘good’ during my childhood, but when I was studying nutrition they became ‘bad’ because they contain cholesterol.  Now they’re labeled ‘good’ again, because they are an inexpensive source of protein and don’t actually raise serum cholesterol. When information about what is healthy changes, our minds can become chronically anxious about eating. And anxiety is not nourishing — not for our minds, bodies or hearts. Additionally, when we feel anxious, we may think we are hungry, since anxiety and hunger share many of the same physical and mental symptoms. We may feel anxious so we eat… then we feel more anxious for eating inappropriately… so we eat more… and on and on!

    When our minds orient toward an external locus of control, it tends to pull us away from the valuable sources of wisdom within our own body.  But this doesn’t mean that our minds should be ignored. Diabetics, for example, may be able to detect the sensations in the body that occur when their blood sugar drops — an aspect of what is sometimes called Cellular Hunger.  Then it is essential that they listen to what their mind says about the sensations that signal hypoglycemia, and follow that advice: “We need to get some sugar into our body now to avoid problems!”

    Our mind can also help us distinguish between real food and ‘food-like substances’, through intelligent reading of labels.  Our mind could also point out that we are going to have a very busy afternoon, and it’s not a good idea to skip lunch, and also remind us that we can eat the first three bites mindfully, even if we have to eat the rest of lunch in a hurry.

    Balancing Mind and Heart

    Mindful eating is embedded in awareness. From overarching awareness we can check in to body sensations, assessing eye, nose, ear, touch, mouth, stomach and cellular hunger. We can check in with our mind to hear what it is saying, and also with our heart, for emotional cues related to hunger. Taking all this information into account, from awareness we can choose what to eat and how much to eat. Awareness brings choice, and choice brings freedom, freedom to enjoy the simple pleasure of nourishing ourselves.

    Can you think of other examples of when your mind can be helpful as you shop, cook and eat mindfully?

    As you practice assessing the nine hungers before eating, are you able to better balance what the mind says about food and eating with the physiologic cues that come from your body?

    Categories: Anxiety, Mindfulness