The Hunger Scale
When we hear the word “scale” in relation to eating healthy, it’s hard not to feel some aversion to the topic. But in this case, it’s not that kind of scale. It’s more of a gauge we use to determine how hungry we are and what it is we’re hungry for. Our internal cues are more reliable as an indicator of our hunger than any number on a scale. We just have to learn how to listen to those cues.
The Hunger Cues
There are two types of hunger: emotional and physical. Physical hunger can be identified by grumbling in the tummy, feelings of fatigue, feeling distracted, and slowing down because we have not fed ourselves in a few hours. Physical hunger comes on slowly and is not typically tied to a specific food or craving. Hunger cues are those physical sensations we experience when our physical hunger is letting us know that it is time to eat again. Symptoms such as an empty or grumbling stomach, headaches or light headedness, grumpiness or being “hangry,” a lack of energy, or shaking and weakness, show us that it is time to eat. Investigate when the last time you ate was and determine whether it is time to eat again based on need and time. Sometimes, it can be satisfied with a snack, other times a full meal is necessary.
Emotional hunger is a little trickier, it mimics feelings of emptiness that we usually associate with physical hunger. Emotional hunger is typically sudden and feels urgent. It's also usually specific, and more taste based, such as a craving for a piece of cake or some salty snacks. According to Help Guide, "you’re focused on specific textures, tastes, and smells." Since emotional hunger is sudden and arises without build, the best way to work with it is to examine how you are feeling. How did you sleep last night? Are you under an increased amount of stress at work or in school? Or are you experiencing high levels of some other emotion like depression or anxiety? If the answer to these questions is yes, your hunger won’t be fully satisfied by food. An underlying emotional need must be met.
The Hunger Satisfaction
In order to satisfy emotional hunger, you need to fill up on the emotion that is missing. Identifying what you need is your first task. Perhaps what’s missing is simple. Are you lacking in sleep? Do you need exercise or joyful movement? Sometimes, you need more than basic physiological requirements. You may need to receive your love language from a partner, family member, or friend to feed the emotion so you can move on. If it is a little more complicated and your hunger cannot be satisfied immediately or easily, there are some skills you can learn to develop to soothe your cravings while your mind is working on the emotional knot in your stomach. Seek out self-care activities and actions that are positive reactions to the negative emotion that you’re feeling. If you’re feeling sad, perhaps the positive reaction is simple, such as watching a comedy or indulging in an activity that always makes you smile. Sometimes you need to go deeper and spend time doing heart and mind work. This can look like writing out a gratitude list to remind yourself of all the areas in your life where you are not “hungry.” It can also look like having a frank conversation with someone close to you. If you notice that your emotional hunger is happening more frequently and is becoming increasingly difficult to satiate, it may be time to get professional help to identify, understand, and work through the underlying reasons for your hunger.
Confronting hunger with a healthy response takes courage. It means taking a minute with yourself and making the often difficult decision to be honest with your feelings. It also means taking action and deciding what your positive reaction will be.
We at Mind Works don’t want you to go hungry when you need support. If you decide your courageous action is reaching out for help with your hunger, we are here, ready to support you.