Recognizing Emotional Hunger and Fullness
One of the primary ways that weight loss surgery is successful is in helping to regulate our physical hunger and fullness. However, physical hunger is only one of the reasons that we eat. We also seek food when we are feeling emotional hunger; emotional hunger is more complicated than physical hunger, and emotional fullness is trickier to recognize. After weight loss surgery, it is particularly important to learn to differentiate between physical and emotional hunger because your physical fullness point is now very finite, and your body will not respond well to overeating due to emotional hunger.
What is Emotional Hunger?
Emotional hunger is your mind’s response to stress, sadness, excitement, or other emotions. When we are young we are often taught to associate food with different feelings or experiences. We got special soup when we were sick, the reward of an ice cream cone when we brought home a good report card, or a pizza when we were left with a babysitter. Through events like these we learn to subconsciously see food as a reward and a comfort. Emotional hunger is the desire to eat to soothe or celebrate. Physical hunger is your body’s signal that it requires nutrients. A healthy eater knows how to tell the difference and avoid emotional eating.
How to recognize emotional hunger
- Emotional hunger is often tied to cravings, usually for a fatty or carb heavy food. While physical hunger can be satiated by any food, emotional fullness is only achieved by fulfilling a specific craving.
- Emotional hunger comes on suddenly, while physical hunger is gradual.
- If you associate the need for food with a particular event or person, that is emotional hunger.
- Emotional fullness is more difficult to achieve than physical fullness, so emotional eating often ends with eating large portions and feelings of guilt or shame.
How to break the cycle of emotional eating
- Plan your meals. If you have a healthy plan for meals and snacks in place, but you find yourself seeking food outside of your routine then that is a signal of emotional hunger.
- When you find yourself reaching for a snack, stop and drink a glass of water while reflecting on your feelings. Determine if you are bored, stressed or excited and decide a different way to respond to your feelings.
- If you know that you usually use food as a reward, then find an alternative to treat yourself such as fresh flowers, new workout gear or time with a friend.
- Be mindful in your eating. Make mealtimes focused on eating small portions and healthy choices. Do not eat in front of the TV and pause between bites so you can stop when you feel satisfied, rather than eating until you are overly full.
Weight loss surgery is a powerful tool, but caring for your emotional needs is another key component in your success. It is important to have support on your weight loss journey.
- BMI < 20
- BMI 20 - 24.9
- healthy weight
- BMI 25 - 29.9
- BMI 30 - 34.9
- BMI 35 - 39.9
- severe obesity
- BMI 40 - 49.9
- morbid obesity
- BMI > 50
- super morbid obesity
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