Did you know that physical hunger isn’t the only type of hunger you experience or should honor? There are four types of hunger you need to know about intuitive eating.
Chances are that you’ve experienced each of these types of hunger at some point– if not already today.
These different hunger categories help explain why you might eat when you’re not physically hungry. While eating for physical hunger is essential, the other types of hunger will inevitably come up. You’ll want to be prepared to either honor them or find a different way to fill the void.
Do you hear the biological cues your body sends to alert you it’s time to eat? Hunger is felt at different levels in different ways by each of us. It can be tricky to decipher anything except the “feed me now, or I’m going to faint” feeling of going way too long without food if we routinely ignore hunger.
Think of how hunger feels in your body. You might feel it in your stomach or mouth. Different levels of hunger can be felt in different ways. When you’re just starting to feel hungry, you may feel a slight emptiness in your stomach and some gentle stomach growls.
Those gentle signals can turn into headaches, stomachaches, and even mood swings if you wait too long to eat. If you’re new to identifying and honoring hunger, learn about the hunger and fullness scale and start applying it in your daily life.
The best way to honor physical hunger is to eat!
Taste hunger can happen simultaneously with physical hunger when your body is hungry and you’re craving something in particular. Some of the most satisfying eating experiences happen when we can pair physical hunger with taste hunger– eating exactly what sounds good when our body needs it.
You can also experience taste hunger when you’re not physically hungry. Consider when you’ve just settled down from dinner and dessert gets brought to the table. You’re not physically hungry for it, but it sounds delicious, and you just might help yourself.
There’s nothing wrong with honoring taste hunger if you’re not physically hungry, but it probably won’t feel good in your body if you become too full. The more you allow yourself to honor taste hunger, the less you’ll overeat to satisfy this hunger every time something looks or sounds good.
This type of eating helps satisfy something different from an empty stomach. When you eat to distract, for comfort, or even because of positive feelings, you’re technically emotionally eating.
Eating can be a reflexive solution to feelings like boredom, loneliness, stress, anxiety, or overwhelm. While the food might provide a short-term good feeling, it doesn't always fix the problem. It can even result in physical discomfort if you eat without honoring your fullness. Plus, if you're physically hungry at the same time, it can be a challenge to stop eating until after you’re stuffed and uncomfortable.
While emotional eating isn’t necessarily bad, emotional eating abuse is another story. Emotional eating abuse is when you go straight to eating in response to a feeling. You eat fast, ignore how the food tastes or makes you feel, and end up feeling guilty, unsatisfied, stuffed, and out of control.
Emotional eating abuse also happens when it's the only tool you have to deal with tough feelings.
You won’t feel this type of hunger anywhere in your head or body, but it’s important to understand it. There will be times when you'll need to eat when you aren't hungry at all. This is key to making intuitive eating work for you in real life.
Consider this scenario. You get the kids home from school, and have 30 minutes until you leave for the soccer field. It’s only 4:00 pm and you’re not hungry yet, but you won’t be back home until at least 7. It makes more sense to eat at 4 when you’re not hungry so that you won’t be ravenous at 6 when you don’t have the opportunity to eat.
Practical hunger helps keep you from experiencing extreme hunger without the opportunity to eat. Apply this principle any time you’re off your usual schedule and won’t have access to food.
You eat to satisfy more than just physical hunger. Taste hunger, practical hunger, and emotional hunger will pop up frequently. Knowing how to handle each of these types of hunger is essential as you learn to develop a healthy relationship with food.