Hungry For More? Which Type Of ‘Hunger’ Are You Experiencing – Physical Or Emotional?

14th October 2019

Contrary to today’s diet culture, it’s OK to be hungry!

It doesn’t mean that you don’t have the willpower to stay away from unhealthy foods. It’s just the body’s natural signal that it needs food for energy and fuel.

This is physical hunger – the signal that is sent via the vagus nerve from your stomach to your brain, due to fluctuating levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone.

It’s also typically accompanied by feelings of emptiness in your stomach, rumbling sensations and growling noises.

Or is that really the whole hunger story?

Psychological & Emotional Hunger: how are they different from Physical Hunger?

Psychological hunger is not caused by an actual need for food to survive.

It’s driven usually out of habit, because you’re feeling emotional or upset, because you know that certain foods taste good, and then there’s the “fun factor” – like when you’re socialising or you see others eating food around you!

This type of hunger comes down to simply having the strong desire to eat, which shows us the sheer power that the mind can exert over our actions.

However, it’s easier said than done to just fight all urges to eat, especially when we’re feeling stressed or when we just find food really appealing!

Emotional hunger can then be considered a subtype of psychological hunger.


Let’s face it – we all want to be happy! So, when you’re “emotionally hungry”, what you’re actually craving is a hefty dopamine release.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that’s triggered when you receive some kind of reward – and it’s a chemical reaction that your body repeatedly craves. No wonder it’s called the “feel good neurotransmitter”!

However, emotional eating is not simply a matter of a person lacking self-discipline or needing to eat less necessarily.

Here are some telltale signs that you have emotional triggers that may be causing you to eat, rather than true physical hunger:

Comes on suddenly and feels urgent

– Whereas physical hunger comes on more gradually

→ Causes specific cravings – usually for fatty and/or salty foods, like pizza, chocolate, ice cream, and baked goods

– Whereas with physical hunger you tend to gravitate toward a variety of foods

→ Eat more than you normally would; often feel uncomfortably full; don’t usually feel satisfied after eating

– When you’re satisfying physical hungry, you get the feeling of being full, and tend to listen to your body’s signals to stop eating

→ Leaves you feeling guilty and ashamed

– When eating from physical hunger, negative feelings do not usually follow


1. Identify your triggers.

This is key – you must come to understand the ‘why’ underneath your emotional eating, for example: stress (hello Cortisol!), habit, fatigue, social pressures, etc.

2. Substitute alternate positive behaviours for negative emotional drivers.

Learn to recognise your emotional needs and fill them in non-food ways.

3. Eat well + mindfully.

Not only should you keep the healthiest possible food options on hand in the fridge and pantry, but consider adopting a more intuitive, mindful approach to eating.

4. Get support!

Find a health & nutrition practitioner who specialises in emotional and disordered eating to help you uncover the reasons WHY you engage in this type of eating behaviour, and can help you cultivate a healthier relationship with food.


What could be simpler (or healthier) than tossing together a few whole food ingredients? It takes only 5 minutes and no cooking either!

Snack Lovers Trail Mix

Raw (or soaked & lightly roasted), unsweetened, unsalted, and organic are your best choices for each ingredient, where possible.

Combine the following:

Seeds: Coconut flakes/ribbons, sunflower &/or pumpkin seeds

Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts &/or cashews

Dried fruit: Raisins, cranberries, goji berries, chopped apricots &/or dates

Dark chocolate chips or chunks (dairy free, low sugar)

Mix thoroughly and store in a sealed container in a cool, dry place.

One serving =  a cupped handful.