We’ve all been there— reaching for a snack when we’re bored, eating sweets when we’re feeling down, or opening the fridge over and over again even though we’re not hungry. Emotional hunger is completely normal, and we all experience it, but it’s good to know the difference between when you’re truly hungry and when it’s psychological.

The next time you find yourself having cravings or feeling hungry, here are some tips to help you understand whether you feel physical or emotional hunger.

Physical hunger happens when your body needs more energy and fuel.

Your body sends hunger cues to your brain, and you might get some rumbling in your stomach. Physical hunger usually comes gradually compared to the sudden urge to eat that comes with emotional hunger. When you are physically hungry, any food will be satisfying. That doesn’t mean that you’ll enjoy all foods, but you will feel better after eating.

Your hunger cues should disappear afterward, and you should feel satisfied. When you are physically hungry, prioritize fueling your body with healthy foods that nourish you.

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Emotional hunger, on the other hand, does not have physical cues such as a rumbling stomach.

The hunger usually comes suddenly and out of nowhere. When we are emotionally hungry, we often crave specific foods. These foods typically are not nutritious and are full of sugar or unhealthy fats. Think of the typical cliché of eating a tub of ice cream when you’re sad.

When your hunger is emotional, you won’t just eat any food, which is a good sign that you’re not physically hungry. If you’re craving sweets, a greasy pizza, or a milkshake, ask yourself if you feel hungry in your stomach or if it’s in your head. Physically pointing to where you feel hungry can help you distinguish where the feeling is coming from.

For example, doing a body check-in every time you think you’re hungry could help you realize what type of hunger you are experiencing. Having this awareness and training yourself to do check-ins with yourself can help you eat more mindfully.

This type of mindful eating can help you identify which type of hunger you have. Notice whether your stomach is giving you hunger cues or if it’s certain emotions that are making you crave food. Try coping with these emotions differently if you notice that you’re bored, sad, or stressed. If you’re bored, try taking up a fun activity, reading a book, going for a walk, or calling a friend. If you’re sad or stressed, try to understand what caused these emotions and whether you can fix or change anything.

Everything is fine in moderation, and there is nothing wrong with eating foods for pleasure. Having these tools to be aware of your habits and triggers is essential in understanding yourself and having a balanced and healthy relationship with food.

Want to give food journaling a try?

Journaling can help you keep track of what you eat and live healthier. Click here to download our free 7-Day Food Journal to get started.

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