What are the different types of hunger?

Have you ever questioned if you’re ACTUALLY hungry or not?
Have you been upset with yourself for feeling hungry when “you shouldn’t be”?
Or even feel a non-physical hunger and feel guilty for eating?

I totally resonate. 

I had the same struggles before I learned about Intuitive Eating ® and started applying those principles in my life. It’s not just about “eat whatever you want, whenever you want, however much you want,” which is a very surface level understanding.

Once I truly applied the Intuitive Eating ® principles, I was TUNING IN to my body, and responding to my internal cues that I’ve learned.

It was so hard at the beginning, so don’t blame yourself for struggling to connect with your body cues when you’ve learned all the external cues (like portions, time, etc…) for so long.

This blog will give you a great understanding of what the different types of hunger are, how to identify them, and what to do moving forward in using the hunger scale and mindful eating.

Let’s dive in!

4 Types of Hunger

There are 4 major types of hunger that affect how and when we eat: physical hunger, mouth/taste hunger, heart/emotional hunger, and practical hunger.

1) Physical Hunger

Physical hunger is the type of hunger you feel out of physical cue. It is likely what comes to you mind when you hear the word “hunger” — like stomach hunger, lack of focus, thinking of food a lot, a gnawing feeling in your throat or mouth, feeling lightheaded, etc…

This type of hunger tends to start gradually and you generally feel satisfied after you’ve eaten how much you would normally eat, IF you ate before you were starving.

When you’re experiencing physical hunger, you are open to eating a variety of foods, even things that might not be your favourite. Physical hunger can be satisfied by simply putting food into your stomach. However, opting for something satiating that will keep you fuller for longer is ideal to keep your stomach growls at bay!

2) Taste Hunger

Have you ever walked past a restaurant and suddenly started to salivate and feel hungry? Or smelled a loved one’s cooking or baking, and your hunger shoots up?

That’s taste hunger at work, which is making you focus on satisfying the sense-based aspects of food. Taste hunger is what you experience, with or without physical hunger, and you’re driven to eat because something sounds, looks, or smells delicious to you.

There’s nothing wrong with satisfying your cravings. It is also important to tune into your body’s cues & meet your “satisfaction factor” which is your sweet spot of satisfying the craving and listening to your fullness of enjoying that food. Learning about your hunger & fullness cues is a game changer! 

3) Emotional Hunger

Let me start by saying – Food IS Emotional!

Emotional hunger is just that… related to feelings. It triggers a reaction where you are driven to want to eat. Sometimes that’s habitual, sometimes it’s for coping, and sometimes that’s needed. Some call it “heart hunger”.

Often times, you might feel like eating for emotional reasons is not a valid reason to eat or elicits feelings of guilt and shame when you do eat. 

It’s also good to note that emotional hunger isn’t always based on negative feelings either. In addition to eating because you’re stressed, upset, or bored, you also often eat foods to celebrate and share meals with others!

Although emotional hunger isn’t “bad”, it becomes more problematic when it’s your only coping mechanism and/or if food isn’t actually meeting your emotional needs. This means there are underlying factors that need to be identified to make sure that other aspects of your wellbeing are taken care of. Learn more about emotional eating and how to cope with it, here. 

4) Practical Hunger

Last but not least is practical hunger, which is exactly what it sounds like. You eat because you need to at that time.

This means you are eating in a preparative or preventative way, such as eating when you aren’t hungry but you know you will get hungry or you won’t be able to eat later.

Let’s say you wake up for work but you aren’t very hungry for breakfast; however, you still make sure you grab a bite to eat because you know you won’t have time to eat at work until lunchtime — this is a perfect example of practical hunger!

Also, practical hunger is important to rely on when you’re overly busy or unable to listen to your internal cues – it’s more important to eat regularly, as your body & mind need the fuel, and really appreciate the consistency. 

So how does this apply?

Now that you know about the different types of hunger, what do you do next? “Fed state” is the state your body is in after you eat and the food you eat is being used for energy.

The hormone insulin circulates to help your body store energy as glycogen and your brain uses glucose as fuel.

However, knowing what to eat and how much to eat can be tricky when you’re not in a fed state as your hunger and fullness cues are distorted.

This is where your knowledge about the types of hunger can be helpful. By knowing the different types of hunger and understanding the underlying causes, you are better able to satisfy your needs.

Further, by honouring your hunger and fullness cues, understanding the hunger scale, and practicing mindful eating, you will have plenty of tools to support and improve your relationship with food. You can download our mindful eating activity & copy of the hunger scale by entering your email address below.

The key is to listen to your body, get to know your body, and to learn to trust it!

In addition, if you struggle with disordered eating, chronic dieting, or body image, please email me! I can either help you or refer you to someone who can.

References:

Honor your Hunger – Chapter 7 – Principle 2. Intuitive Eating, 4th Edition. Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch 

Blog Contributor:

This blog was written with the help of UBC nutrition student, Gilbert.

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