Hunger is a natural and biological reaction that we experience, It motivates us to have food. It also helps us with our survival. But not all hunger is directed towards survival, sometimes hunger can be a way to distract ourselves or to cope with difficult emotions. Thus, hunger is categorised into two types. Physical hunger and emotional hunger. In this article, we’ll look at the difference between these two types of hunger.

Understanding Physical Hunger

Physical hunger is true hunger. That means it is the body’s natural response to its need for food and energy. It manifests in the form of bodily signals such as an empty stomach, low blood sugar levels, and hormonal signals. Thus, physical hunger is easier to recognize because it comes from bodily sensations. Physical hunger is also likely to develop gradually and can be satisfied with a balanced meal. With physical hunger, it is also easy to recognize and stop eating when full. 

Some signs of physical hunger are:

  • A lack of energy
  • A growling sensation or an emptiness in the stomach
  • Lightheadedness or headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating or increased irritability
  • Improved mood and energy after eating

Understanding Emotional Hunger

Unlike physical hunger, which stems from bodily needs, emotional hunger stems from psychological or emotional triggers. It often arises from feelings of stress, sadness, boredom, loneliness, or even happiness. People may even turn to food and eating as coping mechanisms for uncomfortable emotions. Thus, emotional hunger is motivated by how we feel, instead of our bodily needs. Emotional hunger often arises all of a sudden and may even lead to issues such as mindless or excessive eating, Another drawback of emotional eating is that people tend to consume junk or comfort food instead of nutritious meals while eating emotionally, leading to binge eating or weight gain issues.

Some examples of emotional hunger are:

  • Earing out of sadness or loneliness
  • Craving for a desert even after being full
  • Eating out of boredom
  • Eating out of anxiety

How Do Emotional And Physical Hunger Differ?

The following table summarizes the difference between emotional and physical hunger.


Physical Hunger

Emotional Hunger


It develops gradually

It develops quickly


It is triggered by physiological cues such as empty stomach, low blood sugar

It is triggered by emotions such as sadness, loneliness or stress


Satisfied by balanced and nutritious meals

May persist even after eating, difficult to feel satisfied


Supports overall health and well-being

May contribute to unhealthy eating habits, potential weight issues

How To Deal With Emotional Hunger?

There is no harm in occasionally eating when one is not hungry, but it can be problematic if it becomes a habit, thus, breaking free from this habit is crucial to building a healthy lifestyle. Here are some tips for coping with emotional eating

1, Self-Check In

Before eating, practice doing a quick check-in with yourself. You can ask yourself questions such as:

  • Am I really hungry?
  • What am I feeling?
  • Am I eating to avoid certain feelings?
  • When did I last eat?

 These questions will help you identify if you are actually hungry or eating emotionally

2. Keep track of your meals or eating patterns. When are you generally hungry? This will help you identify when you are eating your meals and when you are snacking

3. Practice healthy ways of coping, such as talking to a friend, journaling, etc to cope with uncomfortable emotions 

4, Take a break and give yourself time before reacting to food cravings

5, Consider talking to a therapist if you observe emotional hunger causing issues in your everyday life.


Hunger is a natural response to the body’s need for energy, however, sometimes hunger can be a coping mechanism against difficult emotions such as sadness and loneliness. While occasional cravings for comfort food are normal, constantly relying on food to cope with emotions can cause issues with weight gain and binge eating. Thus, it is crucial to differentiate between physical and emotional hunger


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  2. Blitz, J. (2017, July 7). Emotional vs. Physical Hunger: 4 Ways to Tell the Difference. Jada Blitz Fitness.
  3. Decoding Your Hunger: Are You Really Hungry or Not? (n.d.). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved February 27, 2024, from
  4. Difference Between Emotional Hunger vs. Physical Hunger. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2024, from

Sakshi is a Psychologist with expertise in research and writing, she can make the most complex topic sound simple! She has completed MSC in Counselling Studies from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. Also, She loves books and music and forgets the world once earphones are plugged in.