How to recognise the different types of hunger

We often think of hunger as the rumbles in our stomach or the feeling of emptiness. While this is one aspect, there are many other types of hunger cues that we all experience as well.

These include:

  • Physical hunger
  • Emotional hunger
  • Taste hunger
  • Practical hunger

By learning how to recognise the different types of hunger, we can explore how to best respond to our body’s cues.

Physical hunger

Starting with the one that often comes to mind when we think of hunger, physical hunger. This type of hunger comes from our need for energy and food to keep us going, growing and glowing! It can manifest as that rumbling sensation in our stomach and also as feelings of fatigue, irritability, shakiness, difficulty paying attention and thinking about food.

Side note – if the first sign of physical hunger you notice is a growling stomach then it is likely you are letting yourself get too hungry before eating, which increases the likelihood of feeling “out of control” around food, sweet cravings and overeating.

Taste hunger

Taste hunger is when you have a desire for a specific food or taste. It might occur alongside physical hunger, or it might not. For example, after a satisfying meal out with friends you see your favourite dessert on the menu and so you feel taste hunger because it sounds great and is appealing. Some people might think of it as a craving. If you would like to read more about cravings, read this blog here.

And just to reiterate, this type of hunger is valid. You are allowed to eat just because something looks or sounds good, even if you’re not physically hungry. Honouring what we truly feel like eating is an important factor in feeling satisfied. If we don’t feel satisfied with a meal or snack, it is likely that we will unconsciously continue to seek out food in an attempt to hit that satisfaction point.

Emotional hunger

Emotional hunger typically appears when we have an unmet emotional need. For example, a desire to eat food for comfort, distraction or to help soothe an emotion. It typically comes on quickly and is coupled with feelings of sadness, anxiety, loneliness, and also joy and celebration.

This hunger can often bring a lot of guilt and shame which can impact our relationship with food. It is important to normalise that this too is another valid form of hunger and it is really tricky to explore without first understanding whether physical hunger is being honoured. If you find that this type of hunger is coming up frequently, it can be a sign that there is a part of us that is being ignored and needs a bit more tender loving care.

Practical hunger

Practical hunger is less about noticing sensations in your body and more about trusting that you know how to honour your body’s need for regular energy and nutrition. It is essentially about eating at a time that is convenient. For example, eating a meal during your designated lunch break in response to an anticipated physical hunger that you won’t be able to satisfy later.

Noticing the type of hunger that you are experiencing is a useful tool to help you identify how to best satisfy it and respond to your body’s cues. For example, you might be physically hungry with a taste hunger for chocolate, but although chocolate is delicious it’s not filling, so you might pair it with another satisfying snack or meal to feel truly satisfied.

Eating in response to the different types of hunger is valid and important. It can also help us to appreciate that food is so much more than just fuel, it is also a source of connection, culture, joy, celebration and more. You are allowed to enjoy it 🙂 

We appreciate that exploring some of the concepts in a blog can be quite complex. If you are noticing this brings up more challenges for you, please consider reaching out to a non-diet Dietitian or trusted GP.

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