In Week 1 of our Monthly Focus: Hunger, we delved into the very scientific and biological need for hunger. This week, we’re learning about two different types of hunger, homeostatic (true) hunger versus non-homeostatic (emotional) hunger. Take a look below!
In last week’s focus, we learned about our biological need for hunger. It was a biological strategy used by our ancestors to ensure that we ate food when we found it; that we consumed as much as possible, not knowing where or how we would find our next meal.
It was a great mechanism for early humans. But in today’s world, hunger can be problematic when food is not only abundant, but processed and supersized. Often, it’s difficult to differentiate true, physical, homeostatic hunger from emotional, reward-driven, non-homeostatic hunger.
In last week’s focus, we mentioned this concept of biological homeostasis: the human body’s attempt at keeping certain biological levels within a certain, stable range.
When we talk about hunger in a homeostatic sense, then, we’re talking about the body’s need to feed, the type of hunger that drives food intake due to a true energy need. Non-homeostatic hunger, on the other hand, is driven by emotion, habit, and any other number of factors beyond an actual energy need.
Given all sorts of external triggers these days, it can be hard to recognize the difference between true hunger and a fleeting hunger sensation. Take a look below to learn how you can start to recognize the difference!
How to Recognize True Hunger
True–or physical–hunger usually presents itself with very specific physiological sensations:
Comes on gradually
Any food or meal sounds appetizing
You will feel satisfied 5-20 minutes after eating
Loss of energy, as if you’re running low on fuel
May cause hunger pains, particularly in the stomach
Emotional hunger is the type of hunger that isn’t linked to any true need to refuel. There’s no energy uptake needed to get us back to that homeostatic state–we’re just fine where we are. This type of hunger can usually be recognized by signs like:
Comes on quickly
Lack of hunger pains
Typically triggered by emotions, good or bad
Hard to satisfy, will have you eating past the point of satisfaction
Being hungry for a very specific type of food, often high in fat, carbs, salt and/or sugar
Breaking the Cycle
Being able to identify when you’re truly hungry can help you avoid overeating out of comfort, habit, or reward. Breaking that emotional, gratifying attachment to food is much easier said than done, but it is absolutely possible.
The next time you find yourself craving a brownie or mindlessly, endlessly reaching into the Pringle’s can, stop. Stop everything you’re doing. Fully embrace the urge you’re experiencing, whether you’re waiting to act on it or you’re already in the trenches. Don’t try to distract yourself; instead, embrace the urge you’re feeling.
Observe the feeling:
Is it making you uncomfortable?
Is your mouth watering?
Is it getting worse?
At the same time, notice what your brain is telling you:
Are you justifying what you want or are already doing?
Just a little won’t hurt
How bad can it be?
Observing both your physical feelings and mental response in this moment will help you get past this daunting urge to eat. It’s these small moments of mindfulness that are so key when trying to address unwanted hunger habits.
Once you allow yourself to sit in that uncomfortable urge–fully processing the moment and what it’s doing to you physically and mentally–without actually giving into the urge and acknowledging that this will pass, you’ll begin tapping into a portion of your brain that will get you through your craving.
Emotional, habitual hunger urges will always be present. The idea isn't to avoid it altogether, but instead to notice it, experience it, and allow it to be there without actually reacting to it.
And when slip-ups do happen, you can more easily recover from the setback. In doing so, you’ll be more likely–over time and with practice–to come out on the other side without giving into those unnecessary hunger cues.