Tag Archives: The Difference between physical and emotional hunger

Feed Your Emotional Hunger with Purpose, Not Food

Food is never going to fill you up. What will then? That’s for you to figure out. family? travel? volunteering ? cooking? playing music?

The different feelings we have in our body aren’t arbitrary and don’t come from nowhere, and that includes all of the kinds of hunger we experience.

No hunger, whether it be emotional hunger or true physical hunger, comes along without a valid reason. You’re not physically hungry because you’re lazy, or don’t have enough willpower. You’re hungry because it’s time to eat!

You’re not emotionally hungry because you’re pathetic. You’re emotionally hungry because something is missing or not being tended to.

We need to feed both kinds of hunger, but to satisfy each type, we need to know exactly what to feed ourselves with.

Physical hunger is easy (despite how determined our society is to make it complicated). When we eat food in an appropriate quantity for our body, physical hunger goes away. When we eat enough, we are comfortable for a few hours at a time, sometimes many hours. Physical hunger comes back when we’ve digested our last meal and our body begins to let us know with tummy grumbles and other signals that it is time to eat food again.

One way to know if you’re experiencing physical hunger is that many different types of food will be appealing to you. You would be willing to eat a burger, but you’d also be willing to eat pizza, a stir fry or a salad if that is what was available. This doesn’t mean that some things aren’t more appealing than others, but if you only had one food option (barring any health conditions that require avoidance of a specific food) and were physically hungry, you would shut up and chew!

Emotional hunger is different. If we try to feed emotional hunger with food (and often many of us do), we will still ache, we still feel “hungry” (despite possibly being physically full). Hungry. Restless. Bored. Irritated. Confused. Angry. Apathetic. We will feel something that we can’t quite put our finger on. We will keep feeling a gnawing desire for something. We might go to the pantry or look in the fridge a dozen times, only to sit back down because we don’t know what we want or we only want one thing in particular.

One clue that you are experiencing emotional hunger is that you would actually choose to forgo eating if you can’t get your hands on whatever you’ve decided you wanted. Emotional hunger is sometimes picky. We may not know exactly what we want but we know we don’t want x, y and z.

Just like pain is our body’s way of alerting us that something is physically wrong, emotional hunger is a sign from our brains and hearts that what we are doing isn’t working. It’s one of our many alert systems and it won’t stop unless we address it.

There is no amount of physical food in the world that we can consume that will take care of an emotional need. With emotional hunger, you have to look inside a bit to discover what it might be satisfied by.


If you want to satisfy Emotional Hunger properly, here’s what you need to do:

Ask yourself:

  • Where might you not be listening to your own needs?
  • What message could your body be trying to convey that you are not hearing?
  • Where are you not being honest with yourself?
  • What’s missing from your life right now?
  • What are you craving more than anything?
  • Do you have outlets for creativity? Spirituality? Physical activity? Love/affection?
  • Do you regularly experience meaning, purpose or value in your life? If not, what experiences give you (personally) those things? How can your get more of them?

To soothe emotional hunger, we have to:

  1. Figure out what it is we are missing or craving (love, companionship, creativity, spirituality, meaning, etc).
  2. Be willing to feel the discomfort once we’ve identified it (just let it be there). Recognize that you’ll survive – feeling it won’t kill us and running away from the feeling isn’t going to “fix” it.
  3. Construct a plan to get that need met.  Feed yourself emotionally in a way that will actually satisfy that hunger.

Figuring out what it is exactly we’re missing is sometimes the hardest part. If that’s you, be willing to try lots of different things. For some that part is easy, it’s just that they have a difficult time taking action on it. If that’s you, it sometimes helps to tell someone what it is you want to change and ask them to hold you accountable to taking action on it. Sometimes having someone check in with you is enough of a “fire” to motivate you to move forward.


A note about feeding Emotional Hunger with food

If you are dealing with emotional hunger, and you feed yourself physical food instead of emotional “food”, you’ll never feel satisfied. You’ll never feel full enough, you’ll always feel deprived and you’ll continue to reach for food when you feel the things you don’t want to feel – because those feelings come back afterwards (often stronger).

Emotional eaters frequently eat to distract ourselves from feeling a certain way, believing that the feelings we are feeling are too awful to confront. To avoid feeling crappy, we overeat to make ourselves feel good or comforted, but the irony is that by doing this we end up feeling far WORSE than those bad feelings made us feel to begin with.

Read that again. The exact thing you are using for comfort is causing you more pain than whatever you are running from.

I did this for so long. Up and down cycles of eating and avoiding, eating too much food and avoiding my real feelings, feeding my true hungers. I conflated my discomfort with not knowing what it was that I wanted (emotional hunger) with physical hunger.

I royally screwed up my digestive system, felt physically ill much of the time from overeating,  kept people at an arm’s distance and I stayed in situations that were stifling me emotionally and creatively. Why?? Because eating was so much easier than dealing with any of it. Eating felt like a solution, even if it was just for a short amount of time. It required less effort on my part, less confronting myself and my fears, less risk taking, less responsibility, less vulnerability. I could hide in my kitchen and build up a wall around me with a bag of chips.

Well anyone who has ever tried to build any type of fortress with food knows full well that it’s not lasting armor. It needs constant replenishment. Any “strength” garnered from the activity of eating is gone as soon as you swallow that last bite (sometimes before!!!).

Battling life this way makes it a war you can’t win, because in a war with yourself, the loser is always going to be you.

If you are tired of going through the motions, and ready to confront something that clearly isn’t working for you, you can change it. I’m not going to lie – it is work and it takes a sincere willingness to call yourself out on your own bullshit story (repeatedly!). It means not putting our heads in the sand, not running away from uncomfortable feelings. It means looking at and addressing the things in your life that aren’t providing the value, meaning and purpose you are after (and that is scary stuff, isn’t it?).

Learning how to differentiate and respond to both physical and emotional hunger appropriately is a game changer! It’s so very worth it. If you decide to start paying attention to your hungers, you will grow and you’ll change in ways that some won’t recognize you afterwards – but that’s okay, because in a way you’ve been hiding who you were this whole time!

As scary as it can be to try to understand and tackle the source of your emotional hunger, you’ll find that once you start getting underway with it that you have less anxiety, less irritation, less anger and less confusion. You’ll feel more secure and confident. And you’ll have less of the physical discomfort that comes from eating when we don’t really want food!

Don’t ignore the signs from your body (brain and heart) that something isn’t right. If you have a “hunger” that you can’t satisfy no matter what you eat (and something isn’t physically wrong health-wise), it’s not physical hunger and it’s time to explore where that emotional hunger is stemming from. And if you want help looking at that, let’s talk!

Hey I know it’s tough to change your relationship to food on your own. That’s why I created You Have What it Takes“, a guide full of questions to help you improve your relationship to food using different qualities you already have. Download your copy at the link here.

Why Am I So Hungry All The Time?

There are many reasons we feel hungry all the time - one of them is due to what we eat!

There are many reasons we feel hungry all the time – one of them is due to what we eat!

One of the coolest parts of my job as a health coach is that I get to play detective with my clients. I freaking love playing detective (which totally aids me in my genealogy research hobby)! My job isn’t to “fix” them, instead my job is to help them figure out the right answers for them and give them support and accountability as they go from step to step. In order to do that we have to explore why they’re doing the things they are currently doing that keep them in a pattern. Together, we have to uncover the clues that reveal why they’re eating “too much. Why they can’t lose weight. Why they self sabotage. etc.

When we understand “why” we’re doing something, we develop an awareness that creates an environment where change is possible. I’ve said it several times on this blog – if we want to have a healthy relationship with food, we have to become a detective and investigate our habits and the actions we take on a daily basis that have gotten us to the place we are in.

One of the most frequent things I hear from my clients when we first start working together is that they are hungry all the time. They feel like they’re turning to food constantly and don’t know how to lose weight if they’re always compelled to eat. They feel like they can’t trust this natural signal that their body is sending them. It’s a mystery and they feel completely baffled by it. Feeling hungry all the time is something that can get in the way of your health and fitness goals so it’s hugely important that we figure out the reasons why this might be happening to you.

While a blog post isn’t a replacement for working with a coach who can help you figure this out, if you’re someone who is dealing with this, you may not even know what types of things can lead to you feeling this way – today I’m going to share the most common reasons why someone will feel hungry so often.

Do any of these resonate with you? You may have more than one – most of us do!


Why Am I So Hungry All the Time?


  • Because I’m a fat lazy slob with no self control.  No, that’s not it. And please stop talking about yourself that way. It’s not doing you any favors.
  • Because of the shitty quality foods we eat. If your diet is heavily made up of heavily processed food (stuff like cookies, crackers, chips, breads, frozen entrees, fast food etc) it probably contains food additives that were specifically created in a lab to make you crave certain flavors and textures. I’m not kidding. There are over 3000 substances that are allowed to be added to our food for several purposes. Food processing of this degree started off as a way to reduce waste and increase shelf life, but over time, it has turned into a way to keep consumers coming back for more. It’s not just the chemical additives that cause an issue with hunger, many of these foods are super high in refined carbohydrates (the refining process removes fiber and nutrients which would slow digestion) and that causes our blood sugar to spike and crash quickly – when that happens, we find ourselves back in the pantry looking for more food. Adding more quality “whole” foods to your diet can help.
  • Because your hormones leptin and ghrelin are out of whack. Leptin and Ghrelin are hormones our bodies produce that regulate our appetite and energy levels. Leptin is tells us when we’re full and when to stop eating but when we ignore our fullness signals over and over again and eat past them, we become leptin resistant and it no longer regulates our hunger. We’re no longer sensitive to it. Ghrelin is a hormone that tells us we need to eat. It’s something our bodies use to help us survive – if we didn’t eat, we would die, but some people produce too much of this hormone, causing them to feel hungry all the time. If you are not sensitive to leptin or you are producing too much ghrelin, you are going to eat and eat. You can read more about the role these hormones play with weight here.
  • Because advertising is designed to make you crave certain foods. Both TV ads and the way our food is packaged is designed to make you salivate and think about how you can get your hands on that food. Companies hire food “stylists” to make food look as appetizing as possible for photographs, often using props and materials that aren’t even actual food to create the depiction that the company wants. They show people laughing and having fun while consuming the food, all so that consumers will want what those people have. It’s not a conspiracy, it’s how advertising works.
  • Because the cues you use to eat come from outside of your own body. Even if you don’t have an issue with leptin or ghrelin, it’s pretty common these days to not be in tune with our body’s hunger signals. Instead of trusting our body to tell us when it’s time to eat, we “trust” calorie counts, certain times of the day or visual portion sizes. We eat to clear our plate if it was under our “calorie goal”, even if we’re feeling stuffed for the last several bites. We eat at lunch “time” even if we’re not hungry. We don’t really know what hunger feels like and so when we actually feel hunger, we don’t trust that that’s what it is.
  • Because you are bored. Probably the most simple reason here is that many of us turn to food as a way to entertain ourselves. We’re not hungry, we’re not stressed, we just can’t think of anything better to do right now and food will take up some time.
  • Because you’re not drinking enough water. Some of us confuse thirst with hunger. If you are drinking less than 8 glasses of water a day, try increasing your water intake and see if it changes how hungry you feel.
  • Because it’s a long ingrained habit. When we do something for the first time, it feels foreign, it’s often difficult and we have to think a lot about what we are doing. The first time you tried to tie your shoe on your own as a child probably took a lot of concentration and effort, now you do it without thinking about it. Our brain wants to be really efficient so it creates neural pathways everytime we learn a new skill or habit. They get stronger the more we do something – it doesn’t matter if it’s something like brushing our teeth or snacking every time there is a commercial on TV. If you go to the pantry every time there is a commercial, your brain will connect the dots and you’ll start to find yourself in the pantry during those times without even thinking about it. It’s a habit that your brain has been conditioned to follow.
  • Because you associate food with comfort. Lots of women don’t let themselves feel uncomfortable feelings and to deal with them, they turn to food for distraction and to bring comfort from their feelings. We stuff our feelings as far down as they can go and eat to fill that space. This is emotional eating. After awhile, any time we feel a feeling that we don’t want to feel (confusion, worry, sadness, frustration etc), we may start to feel “hungry” in response to it. Being “hungry” all the time, may actually be a sign that you are feeling things you don’t want to feel most of the time and trying to put a stop to it.
  • Because you’re not eating enough. Some women aren’t eating enough food to give their bodies the minimum amount of energy needed for them to get through their day. They’ve bought into the idea that women should be slender and shouldn’t eat much, so they spend all day trying to avoid eating more than a tiny bit at a time, even though their bellies are loudly proclaiming their hunger. If physical hunger is a constant state and you are at a normal weight or underweight, then you are probably not eating as much as your body requires to function.
  • Because you are training hard. If you’re an athlete or someone who is working out like an athlete – lifting heavy weights, running long distances etc., your body may need extra fuel to build and / or repair muscle after your training sessions. To make sure your muscles get the energy they need, your appetite will increase. If you don’t want to lose muscle during your training you need to eat a little (or a lot) more.

There are many more reasons why you are hungry all the time but these are just the most common ones I see people struggling with. In most cases, true physical hunger isn’t something to ignore. The tricky part for most is determining if whether what you are experiencing is physical hunger or emotional hunger. If you’re not sure which, I’d love to help you figure that out and create a plan to change your habits. You can contact me here.

Download your free copy of Healthy Eating Shouldnt Be a Workout:  Real Life Strategies to Take the Confusion Out of Healthy Living (includes recipes, snack and meal ideas, ways to save money and more!).