Differentiating Between Emotional and Physical Hunger

And why it's so important.

Alex Westphal - Health Coach
3 min readFeb 4, 2021
Collage illustrations by Christian Westphal

Look, we all know comfort food is amazing. When Thanksgiving rolls around we start hearing tales of grandma’s mac and cheese casserole and all the mash potatoes and gravy you can eat, not to mention the desserts (do you know what desserts spelled backward is?). Once, twice, maybe several times a year, whether it’s on vacations, during the holidays, or maybe just checking out that BBQ place you’ve been eyeing, we give ourselves the go-ahead to binge out.

Whichever it is, it is a conscious choice to let loose, to do what we know we shouldn’t. Unfortunately, to eat like this all of the time would obviously not be healthy, so it is good to be mindful when we are eating comfort food that we are not comfort eating, i.e. emotional eating.

Emotional hunger is something that we have all experienced at some point in our lives, from binge eating ice cream when we’re sad to overdoing it at the office pizza party, these are all forms of emotional eating.

by Christian Westphal

We turn to food to either avoid unwanted uncomfortable emotions or to heighten the pleasure emotions.

What I mean when I say emotional eating is when we turn to food to either avoid unwanted uncomfortable emotions or to heighten the pleasure emotions, eating based on how we feel rather than eating based on what our bodies actually need.

Some examples of emotional hunger are:

  • Eating when lonely
  • Eating for comfort
  • Eating out of boredom
  • Eating while depressed or anxious

On the other hand, some of the examples of physical hunger are:

  • Stomach growls
  • Hunger pains
  • Low energy and feeling weak
  • Low blood sugar shakes and lightheadedness
by Christian Westphal

Pinpointing these types of hunger can be integral in understanding our patterns towards eating. We can better create a sense of control and less dependence on comfort foods that tend to feed our moods and emotions. When we can recognize our physical hunger signals we can feel how hungry or full we are and with practice we can begin to pinpoint the signals our bodies are giving us in the moment.

by Christian Westphal

By practicing this sort of mindfulness, by differentiating our physical and emotional hunger patterns, we can effectively train our bodies to stop eating before we are full and to only eat when we are physically hungry rather than turning to food when we are bored, sad, anxious or depressed.

We all want to feel good when we eat, but when we learn how to slow down and understand these types of hunger we can then eat for pleasure and nourishment. We no longer need to overeat and feel full and nourished naturally and not in pain or feel shame. It’s a conversation with our bodies we should all be having more often.

Collage Illustration by Christian Westphal

Want more?

In my health coaching practice, I help people understand why they eat in a rush and forget to chew and come up with a how-to guide for chewing that suits their lifestyle, is easy to implement, and creates a whole new eating experience. Visit alexwestphalhealth.com or visit me on Instagram @awhealthcoach to learn more.



Alex Westphal - Health Coach

Alex is a health coach based in Los Angeles, helping people tap into their personal power to take control of their health and nourishment.