Mind Games: When Hunger isn’t Hunger

By michellefreebody | emotions

Jul 17

There’s no denying it…eating is fun! Unfortunately, eating too much of the wrong thing is bad for our health and adds unwanted weight. When we find ourselves consistently overeating we often assume that we just lack self-control – we know it’s wrong but we just can’t stop it. We tell ourselves that if only we tried harder, or had more discipline, we would be able to lose that excess weight.

The truth is, people who are able to maintain a healthy weight don’t actually possess more discipline than the rest of us. As much as we might think it, we did not get short-changed when God was handing out self-control. These seemingly more disciplined individuals are just not getting the same things from food that we are.

As incredibly clever as it is, our brain does not always communicate with us as clearly as we might like. Take emotions for example. Frequently, our emotions are communicated by the subconscious as metaphorical feelings. Sometimes this is really obvious. If we begin to feel ‘strung out’ or ‘stretched’ we immediately recognise this as an emotion rather than a literal physical state – we know for certain that we are not literally being tied up and physically strung out or stretched.

When it comes to feelings like ‘emptiness’, ‘unsatisfied’ or ‘low in energy’ we are often not so astute, frequently experiencing them as hunger and turning to food as a solution. When we think about it, this is not really that surprising. Physical hunger is far easier to fix than any of those deeper emotional states and eating usually makes us feel better. It brings us comfort, distracts us from the issues at hand, provides a feeling of satisfaction and gives us a sense of feeling full when our world feels empty – at least in the short term.

For many of us, this emotional eating is the primary reason we don’t have a healthy relationship with food. Food has become the default response to a wide range of emotions linked to the feeling of hunger. People with a healthy relationship food are able to distinguish between physical and emotional hunger and respond to each differently.

The first step in establishing a healthy relationship with food is to question our hunger signals. Is the hunger actually physical or is it emotional? If we ate within the last couple of hours and don’t have a rumbling stomach, we’re probably not actually hungry.

If we aren’t actually hungry, it is dangerous to adopt mainstream weight loss advice and simply try to ignore those feelings and walk away. Dealing with emotional eating by trying harder or being more disciplined is like trying to keep the lid on a pressure cooker – eventually it will just explode.

Recognising and acknowledging emotional hunger helps to expose the deceptive brain messages and this gives us a chance to change. When we see ourselves responding to emotions in ways that are not helpful or not how we really would like to (e.g. by eating high calorie foods) and we acknowledge that to ourselves, we can begin to focus our attention on alternative responses and find other healthier ways to address the emotion without gaining the extra kilos.

When you catch yourself experiencing emotional hunger, it’s time to ask some different questions. What else could your subconscious mind be trying to say? Do you feel empty? Do you desire more out of life? Are you lonely? Are you bored or anxious? What are some other ways you could respond to your hunger generating emotions?

If you want help to discover what is driving your emotional hunger and how to respond differently, have a talk to a coach. Weight loss coaching will help you to think differently, break the endless cycle of diets and develop a healthy relationship with food.

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