Is It Physical or Emotional Hunger You Feel?

Woman Feeling Hunger Pangs

Throughout the day, we often feel hungry. Sometimes our hunger is a physical response to an empty stomach, but other times it is better described as emotional hunger. How can you tell the difference?

Physical Hunger

Physical hunger is a brain response to an empty stomach. Controlled by the hypothalamus located deep in the brain, physical hunger comes on gradually. The hypothalamus recognizes both hunger and satiety and these impulses work in balance to keep us well nourished. Physical hunger is a biological response that ensures human survival.

Emotional Hunger

Emotional hunger is much more complicated. We live in a modern world where we are surrounded by tasty food options. From television advertising and roadside signs to vending machines and the ease of prepackaged snacks, our senses are constantly barraged by messages which encourage us to eat.

Emotional hunger typically:

  • comes on suddenly
  • is a response to stressful situations
  • causes us to eat beyond the point where we feel full
  • causes us to crave certain foods, especially sweet and salty treats
  • encourages us to eat to calm or entertain ourselves
  • causes us to take in far more nutrients and calories than are necessary for our bodies

Emotional hunger is a physiological response to external and internal stimuli that have nothing to do with actual hunger. Physical hunger ceases once the stomach has been filled with healthy, nutritious foods. Emotional hunger is much more difficult to sate as the root cause of the hunger has little to do with an empty stomach.

The next time you feel hungry, take the time to separate your physical hunger from emotional hunger to prevent overindulgence and address the real cause of your hunger pangs.


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