Difference Between Emotional Hunger vs. Physical Hunger

When we are hungry, we always look for food right away. But have you considered assessing it? And identify if it’s emotional or physical hunger? Physical and emotional hunger are two very different things. 

Physical hunger is when you feed to meet your body’s needs. It’s what your body needs to stay fueled and get through the day. Emotional hunger, on the other hand, is when you eat to feel better. Here’s the difference between emotional and physical hunger.

What is Physical Hunger?

We experience physical hunger when we lack energy found in food. When we experience physical symptoms of hunger, it suggests that we require food. When your stomach is empty and your brain senses that you’re hungry, it starts growling, thinking about food, and feeling irritable, tired, and unable to concentrate.

Furthermore, it can manifest as exhaustion, anxiety, headaches, shakiness, or an increased desire to eat. You can only eliminate physical hunger through eating. 

Also, if you are wondering if there are certain foods to eat when you experience that, or you are worried that you might not have that type of food in your pantry, worry less because any meal will satisfy you when you are physically hungry. 

Sings of Physical Hunger

Physical appetite develops over time (usually several hours after a meal). When you are starving, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Experience Grumbling in the Stomach
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Empty Stomach
  • Irritability
  • Having a Hard Time Concentrating
  • Low Energy
  • Headache

What is Emotional Hunger?

Emotional hunger is not motivated by a need to eat in response to hunger pangs or the need to live, but rather by an emotional attachment to food, a routine, an upset, or a celebration. Emotional eaters are more likely to crave high-calorie or high-carbohydrate items with no nutritional value but provide a fast boost.

It is often impulsive and fast-acting. It is commonly associated with specific activities, feelings, times of day and is unrelated to hunger pangs; it usually occurs during meals when you cannot possibly be hungry.

Furthermore, emotional eating is a dangerous cycle in which people attempt to satiate their emotional needs with food. It can transform into a coping mechanism and a never-ending loop that never fulfills or satisfies the long run. Eating may feel good at the moment, but the feelings that prompted it are still there.

Signs of Emotional Hunger

Everybody eats for reasons other than hunger. However, if you find yourself reaching for food often out of hunger or convenience, you might be eating for emotional reasons. The following are some of the most common symptoms of emotional eating:

  • Stress Eating
  • Eat-in response to your emotion
  • Seeking comfort in food
  • Eating even if you are not hungry
  • Random food cravings that occur out-of-the-blue

Difference between Physical and Emotional hunger

There is a significant difference between emotional and physical hunger, which many of us seem to be clueless about these days. Understanding the distinction between emotional and physical hunger will help us better understand why we eat. 

Emotional hunger manifests itself in the form of a mental desire. It will cause us to be less conscious of our food choices and overeat. It occurs when you turn to food to either escape unpleasant feelings or to intensify a pleasant one. It usually means that you eat according to how you are feeling rather than what your body needs.

Physical hunger, on the other hand, develops gradually and is felt in the stomach. When it comes to satisfying physical hunger, we’re typically more conscious and conscientious of our choices.

Furthermore, it also implies that you eat when your body tells you that you are starving. When we are hungry, we can usually avoid eating when we are happy yet not uncomfortable. The following are some of the differences between physical and emotional hunger.

Physical Hunger

  • Develops gradually: People who experience physical hunger will feel more because the build-up is relatively slow. It may happen a few hours after your last meal.
  • Food is not a problem: Any food may help you address your hunger when experiencing physical hunger. It means that you can quickly satisfy yourself with any food available in your pantry.
  • Does not lead to overeating: As mentioned, you’ll be able to feel satisfied with what you eat when you are physically hungry. And when you are full, you’ll be able to stop yourself from eating, thus, cause not to overeat.
  • Growling pang: When you’re physically hungry, you’ll experience a sensation of emptiness in your stomach, as if you haven’t eaten. When the stomach is empty, powerful contractions trigger hunger pangs or hunger pains. This unpleasant experience is often followed by an urge to feed.
  • Eating Mindfully: In essence, mindful eating entails paying close attention to your food when purchasing, preparing, serving, and eating. Being conscious of what you eat will help you digest food faster, feel fuller with less food, and make better food decisions in the future. It can even assist you in breaking poor eating and eating habits.

Emotional Hunger

  • Develops Quickly: When you feel like the urge to eat something is so sudden, you might experience emotional hunger. Emotional eating is harder to spot because so suddenly that some people might not recognize it.
  • Experiences Food Cravings: When you’re emotionally vulnerable, the most vital food cravings will strike. When confronted with a problematic issue, exhausted or bored, you can consciously or unconsciously turn to food for comfort. Emotional eating can make it difficult to lose weight.
  • Leads to Overeating: Emotionally eating people eat several days a week or more to suppress and soothe unpleasant emotions. They may also feel guilty or ashamed after eating this way, leading to a cycle of overeating and weight gain.
  • Absent-minded eating: Eating absentmindedly or sometimes called eating disinhibition, is common to emotional hunger. It is to overeat in response to various stimuli. It can happen in several situations, such as when a person is faced with a variety of tasty foods or when they are experiencing emotional distress.
  • Usually paired with upsetting emotion: You will notice that you are undergoing or experiencing disturbing emotions ranging inside your body whenever you feel emotionally hungry. When you’re in a problematic situation, you get emotional hunger.


Learning to recognize our hunger signals before, during, and after meals will help us better understand emotional and physical hunger. Remember that hunger is a perfectly normal feeling that should not be avoided.

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