Are Your Hunger Pangs for Real?

If you often feel hungry, you’re not alone!

There are many reasons to feel hungry.   Of course, the most obvious one is that you’re actually physically hungry.   Perhaps your stomach is empty, your blood sugar has dropped and your hunger hormones are acting up.

But other times, the hunger may not be physical hunger.   Your hunger may be due to a craving or an emotional trigger.   These are common reasons why some people eat too much.   Your hunger could be brought on by a certain type of diet, loneliness, stress or other things going on in your life.

It’s easy to mistake “psychological” hunger for “physical” hunger.

I’m going to talk about the difference between both of these types of hunger, and give you some tips so you can figure out which is which.

Physical hunger vs. psychological hunger

Your “physical” hunger is regulated by the body through your hunger hormones.   And of course, it should be.   You don’t want to be completely drained of fuel and nutrients for a long time.   So, you’re programmed to seek food when your body physically needs it.   Some of those physical needs are that your stomach is empty, or your blood sugar has dropped.

“Psychological” or “emotional” hunger is eating to overcome boredom, sadness, stress and so forth.   It’s based on a thought or feeling.   It’s what happens when you see a great food commercial or smell a bakery item.   It’s not from your empty stomach or low blood sugar.

Here’s how to tell which is which:

Eight steps to figure out if you’re physically hungry or not

1 – The first thing you need to do is to pause to evaluate.   Scarfing down that protein bar at the first sign of hunger isn’t necessarily going to help you.

2 – Pay attention to where this hunger is coming from.   Can you actually feel or hear your stomach growling?   Did you skip a meal and haven’t eaten in hours?   Or are you seeing and smelling something divinely delicious?   Perhaps you’re bored, sad or stressed?   Take a peek into all these areas, and really pay attention to what you feel and your state of being.

3 – Have a big glass of water.   Now observe your hunger feeling for at least a minute.   Really dig into the source of the feeling.   It can be easy to jump to a conclusion but that may or may not be the right one.   So listen to your body and your mind very deeply.

4 – If you do find that your feelings may be the source of your hunger, then face them.   Acknowledge and observe them.   Your feelings are powerful and may be telling you that you need comfort and that you need to give your feelings recognition, even if it seems as if you need food.   Try deep breathing, stretching or going for a quick walk to release some of these emotions; this also gives your mind a chance to focus on something other than the feeling of hunger.

5 – If you’re pretty sure that your body physically needs nutrition, simply wait a few more minutes to make sure.

6 – At this point, you can be fairly sure whether your hunger is from emotions, boredom, thirst or actual physical hunger.

7 – If it’s physical hunger, feel free to eat healthy and nutritious food.   To fill you up, the food you eat should be whole foods, high in protein, fiber and water.   Eat slowly and mindfully.   Chew well, and savor every bite of your food.

8 – Rinse and repeat at the next sign of hunger.

The feeling of hunger can manifest for many reasons.   Of course, if you’re physically hungry and need the food and nutrients, then this is what the feeling of hunger is for!

But often, there is an underlying psychological or emotional reason you might feel hungry.

Follow the eight steps above to figure out if your physical body is hungry, or if you’re bored, sad or stressed.

Use this process repeatedly to feed your body what it actually physically needs (and not overdo it).  

Now let’s hear from you.   What do you do when you experience hunger pangs?   Do you wait a few moments before you eat something?   Do you have any suggestions you’d like to share with us?   Please comment below, we’d love to hear from you.

Categories: Blog, Cravings, Food, Mood, Nutrition, Overeating, and Stress.


  1. Ellie Cook

    Such good advice on hunger pangs, especially the pause to evaluate. But rather than a glass of water (which rarely appeals to me in the winter), I’ll often have a cup of herb tea. Comforting, warm—it’s the answer for me. Slows me down and makes me happy. Ginger tea is especially nice.

    • Barb Wickland

      Wonderful suggestions, Ellie. And I agree with you about the water in winter though I do love a warm glass of water with lemon, but I’m going to experiment with having a cup of herb tea. Thanks for commenting!

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