are you hungry? thoughts on physical vs emotional hunger

are you hungry? or are you bored/sad/lonely/tired/happy/excited? thoughts on physical vs emotional hunger on

Most days around three o’clock or so in the afternoon, I find myself standing in front of the office snack drawer and asking myself this question: am I hungry?

I’ll admit it’s taken a fair amount of mindfulness to get to the point of asking this question in the first place. When I first started back at work after a year of maternity leave I’d find myself mindlessly rummaging through the snack drawer each afternoon because… it was there? I was bored? Other people were having snacks? But more often than not, if I stop to think about it, not because I was legitimately hungry.

The other day I found myself feeling snackish at 3pm, but I also realized it had been several hours since I’d properly moved my body. So I got up from my desk and went for a five-minute walk around the block. When I got back to my desk I noticed that I wasn’t feeling the snacking pang anymore, so I just got myself a glass of water instead. I also noticed that the air circulation wasn’t working in my office, which probably had something to do with me feeling so lethargic. My brain needed some fresh air!

Part of the journey towards more mindful or intuitive eating has to do with stopping to ask this question: am I hungry? But going a level deeper than that the question becomes: am I physically hungry, or am I emotionally hungry?

signs of physical hunger

If you’re physically hungry you may notice some tell-tale signs, like your stomach is rumbling, you feel a bit light headed, or you know it’s been 3-4 hours since you last ate. Maybe it’s been less time than that, but you’re not feeling satiated from the meal you ate – this is especially common if your meal didn’t have much in the way of protein or complex carbs on offer.

signs of emotional hunger

Emotional hunger is a little trickier to identify. Perhaps you’re feeling sad, lonely, bored, anxious, excited, angry… the list can go on. When it’s emotional hunger we sometimes reach for food – often comfort or convenience foods to satisfy a craving. But if the craving isn’t coming from physical hunger, that subpar cookie from the office snack drawer ain’t going to satisfy it, ya know what I mean?

things that can satisfy emotional hunger

If you’ve taken a moment to ask whether you’re physically or emotionally hungry and you’re thinking it’s emotional, it’s good to have a list of things that can satisfy you. Perhaps what you really want is:

  • a walk around the block
  • a hug
  • to have a conversation with a friend
  • to read a book
  • to take a bubble bath
  • to work on a creative project
  • playing with your dog/kids/friends
  • mindfulness meditation
  • yoga
  • going for a swim

And if you’ve tried one or two of those things and you find yourself standing at the snack drawer again, then just have the damn cookie! After all, it’s just a cookie.


  1. Sandra Lea says

    Great post. I notice when work is a little slow I snack out of boredom but when I am busy it never even crosses my mind.

  2. Heather says

    So true. Another kind of hunger I experience ,is , instead of feeling hungry in my stomach it’s my mouth that’s hungry , usually for a treat like chocolate or delicious homemade cookies. And one helping of the treat always feels like more.


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