Do you find yourself wanting to eat multiple times throughout the day? Have you ever stopped and asked yourself: Why am I eating right now? Am I really hungry? Our body needs fuel (calories) and nutrients (macro and micronutrients) to function properly, but sometimes we want to eat for reasons other than physical needs and this is called head hunger or emotional hunger.
Differentiating Between Physical Hunger and Head Hunger
Physical hunger is the body’s need for fuel and nutrients that usually results in eating a healthy food choice. Signs of physical hunger include the stomach feeling empty and growling and may include the physical cues of weakness, fatigue and irritability. If we consume the healthy portions of food, meals should sustain us for about 4-5 hours.
Head hunger or emotional hunger is the desire to eat for any other reason than physical hunger. When we experience head hunger, it is generally for a trigger food or a comfort food rather than a healthy choice. Cues for eating from head hunger may include boredom, habit, stimulation (see food, smell food), and emotions like celebrating with food or finding comfort in food from stress, sadness or loneliness.
Head and emotional hunger is very common and is a common barrier to weight loss, but you can overcome it! Becoming aware of head/emotional hunger and practicing the four items I’ve listed below can help you combat emotional eating, and help you reach your health and weight goals!
Four Ways to Overcome Head Hunger
- Be aware of head hunger. Being aware of head hunger is an important step. Many times, we eat because of head hunger thinking it is physical hunger. Head hunger can be so strong that you believe it is physical hunger. Learn to differentiate physical hunger from head hunger. You can start to make this distinction by keeping a food journal. Your food journal should include the foods that you ate, the time, the place that you ate (in the car, at the work desk, etc) and the reason that you ate (stress, boredom, etc). Then, you can find trends and patterns in eating behaviors and identify triggers that contribute to emotional eating. Once you are aware of trends and patterns in your eating, you can set yourself up for success.
- Just say NO. Avoid giving in to the head hunger craving. When a craving hits, ask yourself if you are truly physically hungry or if it is head hunger. If it is head hunger, practice positive self-talk (ex. I am not physically hungry, I am in control, I am getting healthy, etc). Next, get busy doing something else for 10 minutes. If we can redirect our thoughts to something else and distract ourselves for 10 minutes, the craving should pass. For example, walk outside for fresh air (if its daylight); go into a different room and stretch; work on a project/puzzle; or call a friend or family member. You can set yourself up for success by distracting yourself to avoid eating overhead hunger.
- Out of sight, out of mind. The saying “out of sight, out of mind” works well with head hunger. Remove any trigger foods from your refrigerator/freezer, pantry, car, purse, desk, etc . It is much more difficult to resist the chips or candy bar if they are readily accessible and visibly tempting us. Set yourself up for success, not failure!
- Create your Plan B. Be proactive and create a Plan B when head hunger is screaming at you. Find healthy alternatives for managing stress and emotions like breathing exercises, talking with a friend, coworker or family member, and simple exercises like stretching and walking. Get involved in groups and activities like weight loss surgery support groups or exercise groups. Following these tips will be challenging at first, but you can do it! New habits can be awkward and difficult at first. Every day that you resist these temptations you will get stronger. You will be changing old eating behavior patterns and creating new, healthy behaviors that support your weight loss surgery lifestyle.
The more you practice differentiating between physical hunger and head hunger, it will become second-nature. Here are a few examples of identified triggers and a new strategy that can be put in place.
|Identified Trigger||Redirection Opportunity|
|Visit your coworker’s desk with the candy jar||Go for a 5-10 minute walk instead|
|Night-time eating from boredom||Read a good book or enjoy your hobby|
|Expensive car repairs||Get a second opinion|
|Eating fast food or convenience foods after work||Cook weekly and break down into meals for each day|
|Your boss gives you more work and you’re stressed||Call someone you trust and brainstorm how to get it done|
Overcoming head hunger will be a valuable strategy to help you to lose weight plus maintain it and put you in charge of your success!