When you eat, are you actually hungry?
It’s not uncommon for some people to consume food because of their emotions, rather than being truly hungry.
So, what is emotional hunger, and how does it differ from real hunger? We discuss their differences below, as well as how bariatric surgery can impact your appetite.
Emotional Hunger: What is it?
Emotional hunger, also known as head hunger, refers to eating in response to an emotion or a habit.
This type of hunger usually comes on suddenly, and people tend to crave a particular food (usually sweet, salty or a comfort food).
Examples of Emotional Hunger
- Eating on autopilot whether you are watching TV or sitting on the couch. Here, you associate a habit or activity with food even though you are not hungry.
- Do you automatically grab something at the servo when you stop for fuel?
- Do you eat something at a party only because it is offered to you/is free?
- Do you get the free muffin when you buy your coffee, even though you didn’t want the muffin in the first place?
- Do you order an entrée or dessert when dining out with friends just because others have ordered it?
- Do you tend to eat when bored, stressed or sad?
All of these external cues are driven by head hunger, and have nothing to do with being truly hungry.
In summary, head hunger has social and emotional triggers.
True Hunger: What is it?
When truly hungry, your stomach may start to growl, or you may experience stomach pangs.
If you continue to wait to eat, you may start to feel low in energy or a lack of focus. Delaying eating for long periods of time may also result in feeling shaky, weak or dizzy.
Real Hunger vs Emotional Hunger: Why it’s Difficult to Differentiate Between them
At times, it can be difficult to recognise and differentiate between true and head hunger.
This is because years of dieting, food restriction and overeating may have disrupted your hunger and fullness cues
Learning to pay attention to your body’s true hunger signals is a key skill to learn, which will help you stay on track for long-term success.
How Bariatric Surgery Impacts Hunger
Bariatric surgery helps to significantly reduce true hunger through hormonal changes that have an effect on your appetite.
Many people experience lessened or absent hunger cues, while others may experience a lack of hunger initially but eventually notice that it returns.
By eliminating true hunger, particularly in the first 6-12 months post surgery, the surgery gives you time to work on your emotional hunger.
Learning how to tune into your body after surgery will take time, practice and patience.