Emotional hunger

The difference between cravings and actual hunger.

Have you ever come home from a long stressful day craving macaroni and cheese or ice-cream? Sometimes we turn to comfort foods such as these to get rid of uncomfortable feelings, and to feel a positive emotion. This is what is known as emotional eating. There are times when we eat for pleasure, comfort, to relieve stress, out of boredom or as a reward. We are not eating out of physical hunger, but to control our emotional hunger. Eating to fill an emotional need may seem to be the best solution; however, it’s only a temporary fix. Using food to cope with negative emotions can lead to negative feelings and may distract you from dealing with the real problem.

How can you determine if you are feeling emotional hunger or physical hunger? Because emotional hunger can sometimes dictate all thoughts, it is hard to know what you are feeling. Emotional hunger is usually overwhelming, comes on suddenly and feels like it must be fulfilled right away. If you are feeling physical hunger, it comes on more slowly and you can usually wait longer to satisfy the hunger. Emotional hunger makes you crave certain comfort foods – familiar foods from childhood or favorite foods. Being physically hungry makes you feel like you’d be open to eating a wide variety of foods, not just specific cravings. After eating with emotional hunger, one often feels stuffed but not satisfied. When feeling physical hunger, one feels full after eating, and satisfied, without the craving for more food.

Tips for managing emotional eating:

Keep a food diary – Every time you have an urge or craving to eat write down what you’re feeling and the food you crave, so that you can better understand what is causing your emotional hunger.

Get support – Talk to family, friends or members of your community.

Put off cravings by doing another enjoyable activity – By taking a walk, calling friends or family, playing a card game, reading or taking part in a hobby, you can postpone or stop the emotional eating.

Get more sleep (around eight hours a night) – Michigan State University Extension states this helps to reduce irritability, stress and anxiety, which triggers emotional eating.

Take five minutes – Before you give in to a craving, give yourself an opportunity to make a different decision.

Don’t deprive yourself – You don’t have to completely stop eating your favorite comfort foods. The key is to have your comfort foods in moderation, not eating them to get rid of an unhappy emotion or to enhance a good emotion you may be feeling.

Using these tips to manage emotional hunger and eating, may help to identify which you are dealing with, and lead to mindful eating. Mindful eating can become healthy eating and eliminate emotional hunger in your life.

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