Being hungry is natural for everyone. Everyone wants to eat because eating is one of the most important needs of the body. You may want to eat something sweet, salty, sour, savory, or bitter. Eating makes you healthy and enables you to fulfill the physical and emotional needs of the body. But eating does not always come with health benefits for the body. Overeating and mindless eating provoked by emotional hunger come with health problems.
That is why it is imperative to differentiate between emotional hunger and physical hunger. Real or physical hunger can be slow, and you don’t have specific food options. But as far as emotional hunger is concerned, it is quick, and you want to have a few specific things. This will lead to overeating and feeling guilty afterward, too. To have a healthy life and body, try to differentiate between real hunger or emotional hunger and find healthy options for your emotional needs that lead to overeating.
We all may have been experienced this: you open the fridge, look around, and then close it. The same happens when you open the cabinet and pick up crackers to eat, but suddenly you put them back, knowing that they may not fulfill your hunger you are currently having. This repeatedly happens until you finally look at the take-out menu, and in desperation, you begin to eat things either any or all the things. When you scramble around, feeling guilty for what you have eaten but still determining whether you can eat another frozen burrito or not. At that time, you might be wondering and thinking any of the following:
“I must eat something healthy.” “I want to eat that brownie right now.” “I am very hungry, and I want to eat anything no matter if it is not healthy.” “I now want to eat something sweet and crunchy, but something like that is not in the house!” “I may not be hungry at this time, but I want to eat something.” “what am I doing again.” “should we not know what our body is demanding at that time and which food will fulfill our hunger and make us feel satisfied?”
We all have become thoroughly detached from our physical bodies. What are the demands of our body and what we should eat are completely ignored? We live through our distractions like perceptions, thoughts, emotions, and sometimes unhealthy, erratic, and irregular behaviors that emerge because of them. That is why we don’t know what to eat because our inner dialogue is not letting us decide. It is the possibility that we wish to eat something unhealthy, and our inner dialogue is what made you put the box of crackers back. Eating something healthy but lacks taste starves our other desires and dialogues that our brain needs to give off satiety cues. So it becomes a “do I feed my emotions or my body right now?”. The result is that you may order a pizza in frustration and be grabbing ice cream from the freezer.
If you want to know what you want to eat and what you are craving for, you need to drop more often into your body and look deep. You have to listen to the subtle clues that your body gives you more often relating to food, sleep, and anything else. Let’s make it simple.
If you ever experienced this “what should I eat” syndrome, the following section will figure it out step-by-step.
Step #1 Is it emotional or physical hunger?
Before anything eating, you should comprehend whether it is your physical or emotional hunger. It is the main thing to decide that what sort of need is not nourished and satisfied, physical or emotional. It is important to note that it is difficult to differentiate because they can feel similar, especially if you have used food in the past to help you cope with discomfort and disappointments and fill certain emotional needs.
Close your eyes and take a deep, intentional step. Give attention and look for similar signs of hunger: emptiness, growling, hunger pangs, etc. Take more deep breaths, and try to figure out the quality of your breath. Look for signs of emotional voids or anxiety such as shallow breathing, sense restlessness, intrusive thoughts, racing heart, boredom, etc.
Now turn back to your core and find out which Physical hunger symptoms vs. Emotional void are more communicative and loud? Which is ringing the bell of your instinct to act? If, after this practice, you find that you are not hungry but upset about something and you are searching for food as a habitual behavior, then come out of the kitchen. Go to a quiet room for ten to fifteen minutes to know what makes you upset and give it any attention. Then, continue to practice techniques such as music, meditation, nature, connection, breathwork, self-care, and creative pursuits to help you solve the source of your consternation and actual problem.
But if you come to know that you are hungry, head to step #2.
Without judging, find out the texture you are craving. Do you want to eat cold, creamy, crunchy, smooth, slimy, or even mushy? Then…
Now tune into the type of flavor you want to have. Is it salty and sweet? Sour? Savory? Combination? Bitter?
Do you want to have something hot, warm, or cold?
Regarding time is there any limit? Can you cook, or should it be easy and quick?
As a sixth step, you should choose your food that is the combination of the results of steps 3, 4, and 5. Along with that, it should also support what your body thrives on having. For instance, if it is for snacks, look for healthy fat, ample protein, and a complex fiber web. Trail mix apple with peanut butter, turkey roll-ups, Avocado toast, or hard-boiled egg in a whole wheat wrap are examples you should eat.
Make your snack or meal based on the criteria you just answered. This exercise takes practice and time. But with time, you will be able to differentiate between physical or emotional hunger without the frequent frenemy of morality and judgment. You can now give what your body needs by cutting through the noise and unwanted chatter. But it should be remembered that these two things are not mutually exclusive and can simultaneously be at the same time in a satisfying meal.
One other thing you should consider after this practice is to notice in terms of time and days when you crave a certain food. As a result, you will be able to plan things accordingly.
For example, I always go to the kitchen an hour or two before dinner to eat something. Now I realize that I am not hungry but just bored and tired and want to use food to compensate for the boredom.
Remember that emotions and eating experience are entwined because, without emotions, you may not be able to taste the delicious love in your grandmother’s molecular gastronomy meal or pecan pie, or remember the sweet and satisfying taste of the cherry popsicles that you once ate in your teenage. Once we realize that we are all emotional eaters, we will be able to scrap confusion and food shame and replace it with eating empowerment and confidence, not knowing what the situation is.
After step-by-step discussing how to find out whether you are physically hungry or emotionally, let’s now look at why you feel hungry even when you don’t have hunger, and you are not hungry. Following are the reasons that make you feel hungry even when you are not hungry.
Stress is the first reason. Stress for a long time increases cortisol in your body. Cortisol is a hormone that plays a part in your flight system or fight. To refuel and refill your body after long-term stress, cortisol makes you crave for something. If you have stress in a near-constant state, those cortisol levels stay up and keep you looking for snacks.
Fatigue is another reason why you want to eat even when you are not hungry. When you don’t get enough rest, levels of ghrelin go high. Ghrelin is a hormone that compels you to eat something. On the other hand, leptin levels that decrease the desire to eat go down. Ghrelin and leptin are the two hormones that control your feelings of hunger. As a result, you feel hungry and want to eat something even when your body does not need food.
Extra energy when you feel edgy is also a reason why you want to eat something. Besides giving you something to do, it also distracts from the real issue that makes you nervous. Or to manage your stress, you may not eat at all. This is what slows your system down because your body thinks it is hungry. So when you finally eat it, you are most probably overdo it.
Anxiety and eating have a strong link and go hand in hand. To help manage stress and worries, binge eating can be a way out. Other things from a mood disorder, depression, and genes to trauma, abuse, or addiction can more likely make to eat to manage your emotions and worries.
5: Peer Pressure:
Interestingly, emotional eating does not happen only when you are feeling down. Sometimes you are in a gathering or social event, and you may ignore the signs that you are no longer hungry or feel an obligation to follow the peer pressure.
Alcohol is another reason that makes you starve for something. Empirical evidence shows that alcohol affects your brain that monitors self-control. That makes it difficult to resist a tasty snack. Moreover, booze lowers your judgments about when and what to eat. It is also most likely that you may eat unhealthy foods and eat less healthy things such as foods full of sugar and fats.
7: Pictures of Food:
You are watching a movie, a TV show, or reading a newspaper, and you see the pictures of food, you may feel hungry even if you don’t want hunger. The power of suggestion is enough to make you have a snack. Studies show that advertising with food pictures pushes you to grab whatever you have on hand and eat it.
The Cost of Mindless Eating:
Overeating and mindless eating do not come without consequences. Eating when you have no hunger can cause weight gain and other health issues such as fat problems and blood sugar problems. On a social level, a person with more weight bears criticism and mockery of family members, friends, and general people. This unhealthy cycle can end as soon as you become aware of your needs and try to look for other ways to respond to them.
How to Stop Mindless Eating?
How to stop mindless and overeating is an important thing to consider. You can take many ways to stop this unhealthy cycle. You can find other ways and responses to your emotions and stress, such as meditation and exercise, etc. You can arrange to gather with friends who encourage and support you to eat healthily and more mindfully. Moreover, waving hands to junk food and keep it out of the house is another way to help you stop mindless eating. If you eat your feelings, that will make it easier for you to be healthy.
To sum up, eating needs a body that energizes your body to do physical and emotional work. But what do I want to eat and when should I eat are important questions to consider. Hunger may be emotional or physical, and you should find out first and then eat. This will help you avoid overeating and make you follow a healthy lifestyle with numerous health benefits.