While you might think hunger is a fairly straightforward feeling, there’s a big difference between the craving you have when you’re ploughing through a packet of chips while watching TV and that post-run longing for a feed. The former is psychological hunger and the latter is physical hunger. But what is the difference and why do we need to determine which one you’re feeling? And most importantly, are you REALLY hungry?
What is physical hunger?
Physical hunger is when your stomach is empty and your brain signals that it needs fuel by initiating thoughts about food. You might get a rumbling in your gut as well as feelings of irritability, fatigue and tanking concentration. When you’re physically hungry, any food will satisfy you and it’s actually a good thing! Feeling your hunger cues is important and a great way to know If you are consuming adequate food.
What is psychological hunger?
Psychological hunger is when we feel the urge to eat thanks to our emotions. It’s often driven by boredom, stress, sadness or loneliness, and afterwards, you might feel regret or guilt. In these moments you’re more likely to reach for less nutritious foods like ice cream, chocolate, and chips, ‘feel good’ foods. Psychological hunger can lead to bingeing behaviour as you’re more likely to ignore your fullness cues.
Physical versus psychological hunger pangs
– Increases gradually
– You can wait to eat, but know that it still needs to be soon
– There is a physical response body sensation, like stomach rumbling
– It can be satisfied by eating a piece of fruit
– When you do eat, it is a deliberate and aware choice
– Afterwards, you have feelings of satisfaction
– It comes on suddenly
– You want a particular type of food, and it’s not likely to be an apple
– You need to eat with a sense of urgency
– You are eating in response to an emotion, like boredom, stress, sadness or loneliness
– When you do eat, it’s an impulsive choice and you eat quickly without thought
– You still want more, or a different type of food afterwards
– Eating is followed by feelings of regret or guilt
Still not sure if you’re really hungry? Try the apple test
The next time you’re wondering whether your hunger is physical or psychological, ask yourself if you want an apple. If the answer is YES then you are most likely feeling physical hunger and can grab that apple. If not, you may be acting on an emotional trigger and it may be beneficial to take some time to reflect on what you are feeling in that moment.