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How to Know If You Are Emotionally Eating

Hunger: Is It Your Brain or Your Stomach?

woman hungryFeel hunger pangs, find food, eat food — sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, there's a long list of reasons as to why we eat in addition to just physiological hunger pangs. With obesity rates in the United States continuing to climb, it's important for people to not only be conscious about what they are eating, but the motives behind their eating habits. Here's how to know if you're eating to satiate your brain, or your belly.

  • Stomach hunger: Stomach hunger is exactly that: the feeling when you experience hunger pangs, stomach growling, and you physically need food. It tends to mount as more time passes since your last meal, and is dependent on factors like the hypothalamus in your brain, your blood sugar levels, hormone levels in your body, and how empty your stomach is. Feeling tired, moody, light-headed, having a headache, or finding it difficult to focus are all symptoms of real physical hunger.
  • Mind hunger: Otherwise known as "psychological hunger," this type of hunger is often caused by emotions triggered by stress, sadness, boredom, and even sometimes happiness. You aren't physiologically hungry, and you tend to eat more than normal since you don't know when to stop. Usually, you crave one particular thing, and if you wait it out, the craving tends to go away. The key is to recognize your cravings and to learn how to control them. Thanks to our brains, fatty, sugary foods release chemicals called opioids into our bloodstream. It's these chemicals that put us in a mild euphoric "feel good" state, therefore just reinforcing our cravings.

Keep reading to learn how to control mind hunger.

There are a few useful ways to detect whether you are truly hungry or psychologically hungry. One way is to rate yourself on a hunger scale from one to 10, with one being starving and 10 being so full you feel sick. You should be eating when your hunger level reaches a three or four, not when it's at one or two, since this means you're too hungry and are more likely to overeat. Once you reach a five or six on the scale, you should stop eating so you don't get too full and uncomfortable. Learn what it feels like to be stuffed, pleasantly full, and satisfied. If you're sitting in front of the TV, or distracted by your laptop or music, it's harder to pay attention to what you're eating and how you're eating.

Try to drink water before giving into any cravings, because you might just be thirsty. And when you do eat, try to relax and eat slowly, as it takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain that you're full. Try eating small meals throughout the day to sustain you, and try eating smaller portions so that you are able to monitor your hunger scale more accurately.

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