As part of the process of learning to take better care of ourselves in the long term, we need to know what is being learned about the link between food and emotion. This understanding can help us lead happier and healthier lives.


Managing emotional hunger can be one of the most difficult experiences for us to take care of ourselves because we often confuse it with physical hunger.

To help us to differentiate these two experiences, it is often explained that physical hunger appears little by little and emotional hunger appears suddenly.

Additionally, when we have physical hunger, all kinds of food appeals to us, whereas when we feel emotional hunger we opt for foods rich in sugars and fats.

This is so because emotional hunger is the urge to escape from a trigger (an emotion, a thought, a physical sensation or a behavior).  On the other hand, physical hunger shows up as the energy level of our cells goes down.

But something not uncommon often happens: what we think is emotional hunger is actually physical hunger.

bowl of cerealI experienced this confusion for years, when I used to binge. I thought I had a problem with my emotions and what was really happening, was that my body was hungry. I restricted my food intake not because I wanted to lose weight, but because I didn’t want to gain weight.

I didn’t want to listen to my body because I linked hunger with getting fat. So day after day of not listening to my body, and restricting carbohydrates, fats, and even pleasure, led me to over-eat as a natural survival mechanism. My body was trying to compensate for that restriction.  Does this resonate with you?


There are several reasons that may lead us to not listen our physical hunger signals and disconnect from the body. Here are a few:

-being on a diet to lose weight

-linking hunger with getting fat


-the autopilot and disconnection

-as a way to punish ourselves.

-disconnection from the body because of trauma

table with appetizersWhatever the reason is, the important thing is to realize that not taking care of our body’s energy needs probably will lead us to think all day long about food.  We may even overeat to quickly restore energy levels, probably with foods rich in sugars and fats, which are the most caloric dense.

I have worked with many women who had been learning to manage their emotions for years and they were still bingeing. They had never stopped to think that by restricting they were not adequately attending to their body’s nutritional needs. And of course, as I did, it is necessary to learn to manage our emotions in a healthy way, but we don´t have to forget the body.


  • Make small pauses throughout the day. Take 3 deep breaths along the day and bring a curious attention to your stomach. Notice any physical sensations in the stomach. Explore how hungry you are feeling on a scale of 0 (no hunger) to 10 (intense hunger).
  • Make sure that your physical hunger does not reach a level of discomfort. Instead,, eat a few nuts or fruit before leaving work.
  • Explore with a kind curiosity if you are adequately nourishing your body. We can eat a lot of food, but it may not satisfy us. If we are influenced by the diet culture, it will probably be foods low in carbohydrates or fats, and those foods are also necessary for our body. No matter how much you fill your stomach, if you don’t give it what your cells need, you will still feel hungry. Eat everything in a variety of ways to ensure all kinds of nutrients (fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates, proteins and fats).

Probably, in order to do all of this, you will have to start changing the relationship you  have with your body. If we are continually trying to manipulate it, that is, trying to lose weight or not gain it, we will not allow ourselves to listen to our bodies, and we will not really leave the restriction/out of control cycle with food.

girsl with arms in airPersonally, until I started working on my self-confidence and self-esteem, I kept trying to control my weight as a way to feel better about myself.

I hope you found this article inspiring. To finish, if you feel that you don´t have a peaceful relationship with food, I leave here these two reflections to help you know if is that your body is not adequately nourished:

Do you feel like you’re still hungry after lunch?

Do you try to control your weight and therefore do not allow yourself to feel fully satisfied after eating?

Mireia Hurtado, Spain

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