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  • Writer's pictureKristen Sedler

The Difference Between Emotional and Physical Hunger

Hunger and fullness can be hard to navigate. Diets put our body into a starvation state. After starvation two things can happen; feeling full and bloated before we have given our body what it needs, or binging to make up for what the body has missed out on. People also may experience a mixture of both. What happens is all dependent on our bodies, because everyone is different. Sometimes our stomach feels full (no more hunger), but we are not satisfied and want to eat more (still have an appetite). It is important to be able to navigate why we are eating, whether it’s because we are physically hungry, unsatisfied or emotional.

Let’s explore some of the reasons we eat other than true physical hunger, and ways to navigate it:

· Emotions- Ask yourself: Am I eating to distract myself from my emotions? Am I feeling depressed? Anxious? Sad? Stressed? Happy? You can be eating because you are having both negative and positive emotions. There is nothing wrong with eating because of emotions but it is good to be able to identify why. Food should not be your only coping skill so identifying your emotions and finding other ways to cope is important.

· Smell- We all have experienced being full and then we smell a delicious food and our mouth begins to water. Assess whether you are eating because the food smells good.

· Visual- Certain foods look so delicious before you even smell or taste them. This can be a reason for eating a food or wanting to give it a try.

· Social- Are you eating because everyone else is eating? This is a common thing. It is important to stop and assess whether you are physically full and emotionally satisfied.

· Procrastination- We all try to find something to do to avoid doing homework or work. When eating ask yourself if you are doing so to avoid something you don’t want to do.

· Tired/Fatigue- Are you eating to fuel your brain or because you are tired? Sometimes you need to eat to give yourself a little extra brain power to make it through your day.

· Unsatisfied- Did you just eat? Do you feel hungry not to long after? Do you feel content but not satisfied? Often times we will feel hungry not to long after eating a meal or snack. This can be a sign that the meal wasn’t balanced to keep us satisfied, or we didn’t eat something we truly wanted.

There are many reasons why we eat, and none of them are wrong or shameful. We want to make sure most of the time we are eating because of physical hunger. In order for you to finish eating and feel satisfied, you need to give your body a well balanced meal that is appealing to your wants and needs. This way you satisfy our hunger and appetite.

Now, let’s explore fullness. Knowing when we are full can be a hard task. There are so many messages from diet culture to discourage us from honoring our hunger and fullness cues. It’s important to assess whether we are emotionally full or physically full.

Emotional Fullness- When you think you are full, pause and think, Are you really full? Or do you feel like you have eaten too much? Sometimes emotionally we decide we have had enough before our body physically has had enough,especially when we are wrapped up in diet culture. We are told to stop eating by a certain time, or after we have had a certain amount. But, our body doesn’t work that way. Our hunger and satiety changes each day. So, one amount one day may be too little or too much the next. It is important not to listen to our internalized messages, but our bodies when deciding to stop eating.

Physical Fullness- Do you feel satisfied? Are you still thinking about food? Do you have energy? When figuring out physical fullness, the hunger scale can be a great tool to assess whether you are truly full. Physical fullness is both feeling satisfied by a balanced meal and feeling energized to do the rest of the day’s activities.

Link to Hunger Scale-

Hunger scale
Download PDF • 67KB

*Ideally you want to stay out of the blue area on the scale day to day. Your goal is to remain in the purple and pink areas*

This is not always possible or the what happens. Sometimes we get so busy and we don't feel our hunger cues until its too late OR it's a holiday and there are foods we get once a year and we eat past fullness. Eating experiences are not meant to be perfect, they are meant to be individualized to what your body needs at any given moment in time.

Stay safe and healthy,


Have more questions about hunger and fullness? Feel free to reach out!

Email me at or lets connect on social media @kind_nutrition_mind

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