Do you know what it feels like when your stomach is hungry?
Do you know what it feels like when your brain is hungry? Or when your heart is hungry?
Distinguishing Physical Hunger from Emotional Hunger is important to creating your own food routine.
And it can be hard.
Hard because often, if you’re used to eating processed foods or used to being on a diet, these inner body cues are muffled.
When you’ve been on a diet (being told what and when to eat) rather than eating based on listening to your body, Physical Hunger and Emotional Hunger can feel like the same thing. It can be very hard to tell them apart.
When you’re dieting or restricting calories, you’re probably physically hungry most of the time.
Restricting calories makes you physically hungry: you crave fuel.
Restricting calories means restricting foods (eating “good” foods and avoiding “bad” foods) and this can make you emotionally hungry: you crave comfort.
You need to be able to hear your inner body cues.
Often emotional hunger is actually easier to identify than physical hunger. Once you’re aware that you’ve been reaching for the Paleo Cookies out of boredom, it gets easier to acknowledge that emotion and work to satisfy it a different way.
If you have a history of dieting, physical hunger can be hard to hear for a few reasons:
You’re used to WANTING to feel that physical hunger. When you’re on a restrictive diet or you have a history of disordered eating patterns, feeling physical hunger is what you WANT to feel. When I was in the midst of my disordered eating, I always wanted to feel hunger–to me, this feeling meant that I was using stored fuel and burning fat (and therefore losing weight). If I didn’t feel a bit hungry, I was definitely not losing weight (or so I thought).
When you’re used to WANTING to feel physical hunger over a prolonged period of time, that feeling becomes your happy norm. When you first stop dieting, it’s hard to let go of that norm. This can lead to you letting yourself get TOO hungry simply because you’re not used to listening to your inner body cues.
Just like no one food works for everyone, everyone’s physical hunger feels a bit different.
So how do you know what YOUR physical hunger feels like?
Start eating more whole foods.
Eating whole foods and crowding out processed foods (like breads, pasta, crackers, cookies etc) helps you to tune into your inner body cues. Processed foods are designed to muffle your inner body cues: they’re designed to be addictive. Manufacturers want you to keep eating and eating and eating their products–they create the perfect balance of sugar, salt and fat to make their foods irresistible. When you’re eating foods designed to be irresistible, it’s almost impossible to listen to your inner body cues.
Don’t be afraid to get really hungry.
As an experiment, let yourself get really hungry– what does it feel like. Do you feel it in your stomach? Do you get a headache? Do you get “hangry”? If you’ve never felt really hungry before, you might not know what your physical hunger really feels like. Keep track of the phases of your physical hunger so that you’ll be able to identify them if they sneak up on you. When you’re doing this hunger experiment, make sure to have a healthy snack or meal planned so that you can refuel once you’ve finished.
Reassure yourself that this is a learning process.
If you’ve been ignoring your physical hunger for years, it might take a while to get back in touch with them. There may be days when you get too hungry, there may be days when you choose to eat even when you’re not physically hungry. All of that is OKAY. It’s a part of the learning process. There are no mistakes in creating your own food routine: only learning experiences. Just remember to practice patience and kindness with yourself.
It might take a while to recognize your physical hunger and that’s okay.Being aware of your physical hunger is the most important thing. Awareness is the first step toward any kind of change.
Can you feel the difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger? What does your physical hunger feel like? Feel free to share in the comments below.