Are you really hungry?


This article originally appeared on the

You’ve said it and heard it a million times. “I’m hungry”. In a perfect world, we would feel hungry, interpret this cue, nourish ourselves with the appropriate fuel, stop when satisfied and then continue on our way. Unfortunately, due to a myriad of reasons, such as the high availability of foods, the presence of ‘food like substances’ in our diet, our time poor and pressured lifestyles and our propensity to be undernourished and overfed, we are struggling to correctly interpret these cues. And it is showing – in our waistlines, our energy levels, our digestion.

There are 3 types of hunger that we experience. Learning to identify the types of hunger and the appropriate responses are the key to healthy relationships with food.

1. Sensory Hunger

Sensory hunger is all about the hunger we feel when we see, smell or taste something delicious. It involves a positive association between the food and the things your senses feel when you eat it. Like your mums sticky date pudding or your nannas freshly baked bread. The thought of these foods make you feel warm and fuzzy on the inside, not because you feel terrible to begin with, but because you have great memories of how you feel when you eat them.

This type of hunger is healthy when it is kept in check. If, during family events or a trip to your favourite restaurant, you want to order a dish ‘just because it tastes good’ then that is a normal, balanced behaviour. Warning bells should sound when you can’t pass a shop window, a bakery, a morning tea or a Mcdonalds without having to partake. Think once or twice a week for this type of indulgence.

2. Physical Hunger

Physical hunger is just that – physical signs and symptoms that it is time to eat again. These might including a rumbling tummy, a sense of hollowness in the abdomen, a dip in mental or physical energy or general irritability (being ‘hangry’). This type of hunger is satisfied by eating food and should be our primary cue for eating.

3. Emotional Hunger

Emotional hunger is when we either get hungry or eat (without the presence of hunger) due to underlying thoughts and feelings in that moment. This can sometimes be tricky to catch, as often we are actually unaware of the connection and think that we are eating ‘just because’ or due to a ‘craving’. Emotional hunger tends to lead us to make poor food choices and overeat. Emotional hunger will not relent after eating food and leaves us feeling unsatisfied. If you are eating because you are stressed, or you need time out, or you are annoyed or sad then you are emotionally eating. Ideally, we want to limit this cue. If you eat a tub of ice cream because you broke up with your boyfriend/girlfriend then that is ok, but if you eat a tub of ice cream because your day was busy … and you are a working mum with 4 kids, it is likely that you will be eating way too much ice cream.

Learning to identify your hunger is the first step in being able to tackle unhelpful food behaviours. Once you know what is not working for you, we can start to identify which areas need to be changed. Over the next week or so, take note when hunger strikes – are you feeling the physical hunger of an empty belly or the emotional hunger of hating your job?