Emotional Hunger Versus Physical Hunger

Many suffer from what is known as emotional eating. In this condition, food is eaten for pleasure instead of for sustenance as it is intended. It used as a coping mechanism to alleviate distressful feelings, such as sadness, pain, depression, anger, boredom and other related emotions.

Emotional eating is much different than eating to satisfy real hunger, and it can be a culprit in weight gain, obesity, and emotional and psychological distress due to the guilt and shame that it can induce in those who engage in it.

Typically the emotional eater will choose unhealthy foods, like, ice cream, cookies and other sweets because it is the fat and sugar in them that brings a feeling of contentment and euphoria as they induce reward centers in the brain to release “feel good” chemicals, such as, the body's natural pain killers, opioids.

Emotional eating can be severe or an occasional occurrence, but, for most, it becomes a habit, and something that unfortunately they are not even aware exists in their own lives. Old habits die hard as the saying goes, and those who are unaware of automatically reach for chips and ice cream when they are distressed or bored.

To break free from the cycle of emotional eating, it is crucial to understand how it differs from real physical hunger. This can be trickier than it sounds, because emotional eaters have spent months or years perfecting the craft of using food to deal with feelings, and are typically entirely out of touch with their body's actual need for food or what that feels like.

Since emotional hunger is a powerful thing, it is essential to assess the signs and take an in-depth look at your behavior should you be looking to stop the cycle of emotional eating and overeating.

Emotional Versus Physical Hunger

Emotional Hunger Is Sudden

Emotional hunger comes on suddenly, like an unexpected rainstorm on a warm summer day. It is typically an urgent need for food, and it feels overwhelming. Conversely, physical hunger is not that urgent; it is more gradual and also expected, as it comes in anticipated intervals, such as meal times.


As opposed to physical hunger where a sensible meal will satisfy, including healthy selections like fruits and vegetables, in emotional hunger one has out of control cravings for foods that are high in fat and sugar.

The craving is an urgent need, and sometimes feels like it's something one can't live without, and only that specific food which craved will satisfy.

Guilt And Shame

No one ever feels guilty about eating lunch or breakfast; it's sustenance; it's what humans are supposed to do. But, emotional hunger often marked by feelings of guilt, shame and regret after binge eating because deep down the eater knows that this food ate dysfunctional reasons.

Mindless Eating

Unlike with physical hunger where one sits down to enjoy a meal and savors every bite, emotional hunger often characterized by mindless eating. Without awareness one can finish a tub of ice cream or a box of cookies without truly realizing how much they have eaten.

Unlike physical hunger, where one stops eating once they are full, emotional hunger is never satisfied. The emotional eater will keep eating and wanting more and more food until they so stuffed that they feel sick.

Emotional Hunger Is In The Mind

As opposed to physical hunger that is felt in the stomach when food is absent or it is meal time, emotional hunger is in mind, and includes imagining the smell, taste, and texture of certain foods craved.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there is a profound difference between these two types of hunger.

Can you identify any of these in your eating habits?

For many emotional eating is a habit that encompasses a large part of their life. It is not healthy, not for the body, or the emotional state of one who has fallen victim to this type of dysfunctional behavior.

Help is available.

The key is to identify and become aware of the problem and your patterns in this regard, and then learn proper coping mechanisms that will eliminate the need to use food for emotional satisfaction.