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Hunger is an interesting thing, equal parts biological instinct and learned response. It can have emotional and psychological influences. At one time people went for hours between eating a meal and it wasn’t that they didn’t feel “hungry”, it just wasn’t perceived as an emergency. Today, we say, “eat every two hours” or your metabolism will slow down (this is not true by the way). So how do we know when to eat or when to wait when we think we are hungry?

Physical hunger comes on gradually, while emotional hunger is sudden. Don’t ignore hunger signals but learn to recognize actual physical hunger signs VS a twinge of hunger due to emotions, habits or influences.

Eating when you’re not hungry leads to overeating and creates habits that leave us feeling deprived and out of control. You’ll naturally eat less by paying attention to your body’s hunger signals.


Ask yourself three questions to determine if you are experiencing a biological need to eat:

  1. When was the last time I had a meal or snack? Hunger cycles peak approximately every 90 minutes.
  1. Listen to the stomach. Tune into your stomach area and pay attention to any sensations there, like emptiness, mild nausea, or rumbling. A growling, grumbling stomach is usually the strongest clue that you’re really hungry.  If you have eaten recently, be sure it’s not just your stomach digesting food.
  1. Would any food be welcome right now or just that certain tempting food? Do the apple test. This is a simple test that can help you figure out if you’re experiencing physical hunger or emotional/head hunger. In general, emotional hunger is a craving or desire for a very specific group of foods (like carbs) or a specific food (like chocolate cake). Physical hunger will be satisfied with a wide array of food options.

Once you’ve determined you’re experiencing hunger pains due to a psychological influence, here’s how to avoid them.

Wait 15 minutes, grab a drink of water and distract yourself by walking around and stretching out your body. We all know thirst can be mistaken for hunger. Being tired can create a sensation in or around your midsection, which can also be mistaken for hunger. So take a water break and walk around to see if the desire to eat subsides.


Unfortunately, this one is multi-layered, complicated and unique for each person. Eating due to body hate, eating as a means of self-soothing and eating as a means of discipline and self control need proper attention and care.

Emotional eating is a powerful and effective way to find temporary relief from many of life’s challenges.  In order to stop this cycle of emotional eating, you have to make a commitment to get help. The first and simplest way to address the desire to overeat is to write about your experiences in a journal. A pen coupled with paper can serve as a powerful life tool. It is an outlet for processing emotions and increases self-awareness.
Read about the benefits of journaling.

Beyond journaling, there are dieticians, therapists and support groups out there to help. Overeaters Anonymous is a wonderful support group with weekly meetings in right here in the midlands.  To learn more about the group: https://oa.org

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