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Emotional Hunger vs. Physical Hunger

So You've Eaten, You're Full, but You're Still Mentally "Hungry" — Now What?

You know by now that there's a difference between emotional eating and eating to survive; what we crave emotionally often differs from what our body actually craves and needs, and sometimes that can be tough to navigate.

While emotional eating left unchecked can lead to serious weight and health issues, there is still something to be said for ensuring you're emotionally and mentally sated when you eat. As registered dietitian Lisa Eberly-Mastela, RD, MPH, put it, "Food is not simply fuel for the body; the nutrients in food follow complex pathways to impact how we feel, and for good reason." In sum: we're not just eating to sustain ourselves, and food serves a purpose well beyond simply surviving.

If you're one of those "eat to live" personality types, this may not make sense (some people even wish they could take a pill in lieu of eating a meal), but if you truly enjoy and love food — the experience around it, the setting, the connection around mealtimes — then this makes more sense to you. Staying emotionally and mentally satisfied with your food can play a huge role in the sustainability of your diet in the long run.


Think of it this way — you could eat a block of tofu, and your body would feel quite stuffed, but you wouldn't necessarily feel mentally sated. You might want a taste of something salty or sweet, despite the fact that your stomach would be pretty darn full at this point. This isn't a healthy scenario, according to Lisa. "Eating foods you don't enjoy just because they're 'healthy' is not healthy," she told POPSUGAR. "You should enjoy food and feel fulfillment eating it — period."

Just like with any relationship, your relationship with food needs to be positive and healthy. The more satisfied you are with your diet and what you're eating, the more likely you are to stay on course. "Food is more than merely fuel," Lisa said. "Food is magic — it's beautiful, social, emotional, fulfilling, satisfying, understanding, and more."

Her advice? "Listen to your body," she said. "However, this doesn't mean every time you're sad or craving cake you go for it, but it also doesn't mean you let yourself be miserable [on a diet] because you think it's healthiest for you. Find YOUR middle ground that makes you healthy, happy, and satisfied."

It's all about balance, as we typically preach. There's no cookie-cutter diet, so you have to find what works best for you, your chemistry, and your personality type. Find what fuels you both physically and mentally! "Maybe eight out of 10 times you go for the hot tea with honey instead of the chocolate, or maybe you order the salad after your vacation because you know it will ultimately make you feel better than the cheeseburger," Lisa said. "But allow yourself to selfishly and without guilt take the joy from your food — eat the chocolate because magnesium in it relieves your cramps, eat the cheeseburger because you crushed that workout class!"

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Diggy Lloyd
Product Credit: Equipment Pajamas, Brother Vellies Slides
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