Is Your Hunger Emotional or Physical?

Today’s guest post is by Davey Wavey’s good friend and spiritual weight release coach, Diane Petrella. Diane is also one of the contributors to The Davey Wavey Weight Loss Program.

Do you know the difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger? The signs seem identical until you learn their unique characteristics. Understand the difference so you can take charge of emotional eating and lose weight in the process.

Here are five traits that differentiate emotional hunger from physical hunger. This knowledge and awareness helps you prevent emotional eating episodes.

1. Emotional hunger occurs in response to your feelings. Physical hunger occurs because your body needs fuel.

If you tend to eat for emotional reasons, it’s not only due to painful feelings. Any feeling that is difficult to regulate may trigger the urge to eat. For example, you feel sad and turn to food for comfort.  Or, you feel excited about something and react by eating. It’s not the feeling itself that triggers the urge to eat; it’s the inability to let the feeling be present without stimulating it or numbing it with food.

Physical hunger is biologically based and connected to blood sugar levels in your body. Your body responds with a grumbling in your belly, a light-headed feeling, fatigue or a headache. You also may feel irritable or have difficulty concentrating.

2. Emotional hunger tends to come on suddenly. Physical hunger emerges gradually.

When your emotions drive your craving, the impulse to eat feels sudden, intense and urgent. You confuse an emotional need with a physical one. It’s not about the food, but food is the only thing on your mind.

With physical hunger, the sensations in your body develop over time. If you’re attuned to your body, you notice cues that your body needs food. You feel in control of these cues. Food is something you desire, but it can wait.

Sometimes, however, physical hunger does come on suddenly due to blood sugar instability. Please seek medical guidance to determine if this applies to you.

3. With emotional hunger you crave certain foods. With physical hunger you’re open to many options.

When you eat for emotional reasons, you tend to want specific foods, such as cookies, chips or pizza. You believe nothing else will help so you’re not open to alternatives.

When you’re physically hungry, you’re open to many food choices. Even carrots and celery look appealing to your rumbling stomach.

4. Emotional hunger doesn’t notice signs of fullness. With physical hunger, you stop eating when full.

With emotional hunger, you generally stop eating when you become numb to the feeling that triggered the impulse to eat. You’re not as attuned to your body because you’re satisfying an emotional need not a physical one.

When you eat because you’re physically hungry, and you’re able to control your impulses, you decide when you’re going to stop eating. You feel in tune with your body and respond to the sensation of fullness. You make a conscious choice to stop because you’ve eaten enough.

5. Emotional eating induces feelings of guilt. Physical hunger is satisfied with no remorse.

Emotional eating episodes perpetuate a cycle of self-blame. You eat because you want to feel better. You feel better at first because food numbs your feelings. Then, guilt and shame replace the feeling that triggered the impulse to eat in the first place. The cycle continues.

When you eat to satisfy a physical hunger only, your body feels nourished and you feel content. There is no guilt because you know eating fulfills a necessary need.

It’s Not About the Food

If you struggle with emotional eating, understand it’s not about finding the right nutritional plan. It’s about allowing your feelings to be experienced and released in a safe, nurturing way. Practice the Stop-Breathe-Reflect-Choose technique to create space between the urge to eat and acting on that urge. Identify and name the feeling you’re experiencing. Develop a list of strategies to help soothe and comfort yourself. Learn to allow your feelings to flow through you rather than push them away with food.

Do you understand your hungers? In the comments below, let us know how you cope.

About DianePetrella

Diane Petrella, MSW is a psychotherapist and life coach. She offers her clients a spiritual approach to weight release and helps them develop a loving, respectful relationship with their bodies. Receive a free copy of Diane’s Seven Easy & Effortless Weight Loss Secrets by signing up for her monthly e-newsletter, Living Lightly, for spiritual insights and tips to release weight with confidence and love. To contact Diane visit


  1. Alex - Portugal says:

    comfort eating, craving certain types of foods - mainly the ones with ++sugar, borderlines with addiction. Whoever comes to terms with being addicted to the rush or comfort brought by “comfort” foods, is often also able to come to terms with other addictions like cigarettes, alcohol, or illicit drugs. I’m the living proof of that, although it’s not easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight. thanxx for your hard work Davey.
    Alec, POrtugal

  2. Werner - South Africa says:

    I think it also depends on personality. If your personality allows you to react emotionally and you fall back on food because you’re dealing with something, in a way you are rewarding yourself. To binge, is to react to emotion via eating. If you binge, your brain produces serotonin. A feel good hormone. Wrong eating patterns disrupts the natural release of this hormone so if you binge, you feel fantastic afterwards and one tends to fall back on that. Not that you physically feel so good with a stomach that will make you roll down more or less anything. You fall into a terrible circle that never stop, until you change everything and the way you think about food.

    I was a good example. Until I changed everything i eat and they way i think about food. I lost 66lbs (30kg) in 7 months by just changing the way I treat food and really started to respect my body. I learned a lot about myself. Although my journey is not yet complete, i still have a long way to go.

    So emotional eating is very real and a true threat to peoples health all over the world.

  3. This is totally what I am struggling with lately. I wasn’t even aware of it until recently. I’d signed up for a workout bootcamp and was really sticking to the food plan. I noticed an issue with my bank statement and I immediately ate like a giant portion of ice cream right out of the carton while I checked all my transactions. Definitely something I need to recognize!

  4. and then theres boredom eating… drink a glass of water.. or 2.. if after 15 minutes youre still hungry.. have a healthy snack..

  5. christopher says:

    the physical=i had just yesterday-afterwards-i doubled my workout routine-today i feel better for it.

  6. 成功者总是跃跃欲试,试这试那;失败者原地不动。