You wake up and you’re hungry.
You work for two hours and you’re hungry.
You come back from lunch and an hour later you’re hungry.
Or, are you?
Asking yourself, “Am I hungry?” is one of the best ways to know whether or not you should eat. No, this is not rocket science and I’m not being cheeky here either.
On one hand, it’s a somewhat obvious question and seemingly easy to discern, “Am I hungry, yes or no?”, but that’s where you may be wrong.
When to Eat?
Research has shown that humans tend to depend less on the physical sensations of hunger to know when they are hungry and more on external, sensory, and social cues to determine if they should eat.
And, despite the large roles that external cues have on whether or not you choose to eat, studies have shown that we have little awareness of what is actually driving the desire to eat.
So, it becomes “I’m hungry, time to eat” versus, “I’m hungry and what am I hungry for?” or “Is this physical or emotional hunger?”
Why Identifying Physical Hunger Matters:
- Toxin Accumulation: Overeating can lead to congestion in the liver and toxin accumulation in the body and toxic overload even from quality food in too large of quantity.
- Increased Inflammation: Eating too frequently can promote inflammation in the gut and disrupt the lining of the small intestine even leading to “Leaky Gut Syndrome” where in the lining of the gut become hyper-permeable and be the source of a wide-range of ailments and diseases.
- Weight Gain: If you are eating without being physically hungry this may contribute to weight gain or difficulty losing excess pounds.
- Acknowledge your Emotions: When you don’t use food to address physical hunger you are better able to acknowledge and address your emotions directly. Even stating the emotion to yourself can be helpful – “I am bored” or “I am feeling hurt”.
Emotional vs. Physical Hunger:
- 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 present and 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.
So, the next time you feel hungry, ask yourself “Am I hungry?” and see where the hunger is truly coming from. Then, when it’s physical hunger, eat and be present for every bite.