Emotional Hunger: What Is It And What Can Be Done To Combat It

This phenomenon can be confused with physical hunger, but it has nothing to do with lack of food.

Emotional hunger

One day someone told me that there were always going to be people with obesity, and although he mentioned it in a work context, the reality is that that phrase, in addition to being true, is not encouraging at all.

According to the National Health and Nutrition Survey (ENSANUT), in 2016 73% of the adult population in Mexico already suffered from overweight or obesity; ranking second in the world behind the United States, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

It is known that the problem lies in the kind of food we eat, the frequency and the quantities. However, there is a factor that, in some way, interferes with the art of good eating, since you do not always eat because you really feel hungry, sometimes it is done to cover up certain emotions. The latter is known as emotional hunger or emotional eating.

Difference between physiological hunger and emotional hunger

Physical or physiological hunger, once it appears, tends to increase gradually and can be satisfied with any type of food, so that a healthy meal can be chosen without problems. Once you eat, you don’t need more as you experience the feeling of fullness.

On the contrary, emotional hunger appears suddenly with a desire to eat a specific food, especially unhealthy food; However, once you satisfy the craving, that apparent “hunger” doesn’t go away, because you want to keep eating.

The relationship between hunger and emotions

From a young age, consciously or unconsciously, we associate food with emotions. For example, the feeling of security of a baby when taking his milk in the arms of father or mother; rewards with sweets or unhealthy food for achieving an achievement, be it good behavior or high grades. There is even a popular phrase that says: “the penalties with bread are less”, so that we learn that sadness, abandonment, resentment, among others, are reduced by eating.

In sad or happy situations, food can trigger reactions in the brain that are pleasant. An example of this are chocolates, which trigger a compound called phenylethylamine, which generates a state of well-being; Furthermore, chocolate releases endorphins and serotonin, which is why it is considered a natural antidepressant.

Filling the void

As mentioned above, it is not a real feeling of hunger, but the unconscious desire to fill a void, which is not in your stomach … it is an emotional discomfort. In this case, the person cannot take charge of said discomfort, since, at times, they are not aware of it, so they confuse that feeling with hunger and try to compensate for it by eating.

On the other hand, there are times when the person manages to be aware of those specific emotions, but has not made the decision to attend to them, so that dissatisfaction continues.

Perhaps if the person wonders about that hunger he feels, he could come to the conclusion that it may be hunger for affection, need a hug; perhaps fear of being abandoned, of feeling lonely, of being rejected; or simply going through a time of great worry or anxiety. Try as you might, it is something that food can never satiate, and consequently it contributes to weight gain and feelings of guilt.

How emotional hunger is satisfied

The first step may be to realize what you are feeling or thinking in that moment in which you cannot be satisfied; Perhaps you are going through a situation in your life that causes you worry, sadness, stress, happiness. Give what you are feeling a name, discover what thoughts invade your mind, and what need you have at that moment.

Go to the nutritionist. When it comes to eating, it is necessary to learn which portions are suitable for you, in addition to keeping track of the hours you have to eat. That way, you can more easily identify when emotions start to be confused with hunger.

Do exercise. This will allow you, in addition to improving your health, to discharge negative emotions such as stress and anxiety. It also works as a natural antidepressant, releasing endorphins and serotonin that improve mood. Seek help to address that emotional distress. You can start by sharing it with someone you trust; If the problem persists, do not hesitate to go to the psychologist, who will give you the necessary help.

The main thing in this topic is to pay attention to the emotional needs that you may present. Otherwise you give your body an over-intake of food, which ends up being detrimental to your health. Listen to your body and attend to its need. Give your emotional area the importance it requires, so that you find the well-being you deserve.

Author: Psic. Angel Ximenez.

Bibliographic references:

  • NOTIMEX (2018). Obesity in Mexico, a problem of greater severity: FAO. Excelsior.
  • OMENT (2017). Mexican Observatory of Noncommunicable Diseases. Retrieved on November 11, 2018, from the Mexican Observatory of Non-communicable Diseases.

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