Our brains are initially hardwired to eat when hungry and to stop when full. As we mature, our connection to our internal cues for hunger may shift.
We may equate certain foods with emotional experiences and seek those foods out to access or meet certain emotional needs. We may disrupt or disconnect from our natural hunger cycle due to other set schedules, or having our meals moderated by someone external to us, such as being told to finish a meal when full or being told you’ve had enough when you are still hungry. Dieting can also disrupt our natural rhythms.
At some point we may ignore physical feelings of hunger and fullness and become more emotionally-based eaters. The chart below offers some ways to distinguish and bring more consciousness to hunger cues.
Physical hunger involves your stomach growling, a decrease in energy, and slowly growing hunger. Usually there has been significant time between meals.
Emotional hunger involves no physical cues from the stomach, a sense of urgency with specific food cravings, and a feeling of satisfaction may still be absent after the meal. Usually there has been little time since the previous meal.
Awareness for these subtleties may not always be apparent prior to mealtime. Here are some ways to distinguish mindless eating from emotional eating.
- Eating without much awareness to the sensory experience of eating (taste, texture, smell, appearance) or the food.
- Multi-tasking or eating while engaged or focused on another activity (such as work, communication, or entertainment). Can also be pre-occupied in other thoughts or feelings while eating.
- Emotionally-driven. Less in touch with body and physical cues of hunger or fullness.
- Eating with awareness (pace, portion, etc.) and consciousness to the sensory experience of the meal.
- Considerations like “How am I eating?” and “Why am I eating?” are part of the process of eating or decision to eat.
- Mindful of body cues for hunger and fullness. Reduces overeating or coping behaviors that involve eating outside of hunger/fullness cues.