And I will step out from behind my degree and my day job working withÂ eating issues and tell you that there have been plenty of times in which I have lunged into that bowl with wild abandon. And you know what? When I climbed my way out with spoon in hand, I didnâ€™t feel satisfied.
Thatâ€™s because in the instances in which I found myself eating the ice cream in without physical hunger and mindful awareness, I was engaging in emotional eating. I was searching for something, and, unfortunately enough, I didnâ€™t find it at the bottom of the bowl.
But how, when weâ€™re wrapped up so tightly in the bonds of craving, determine the difference between our physical hunger and our emotional hunger?
Itâ€™s not an easy process, particularly for individuals who have struggled with using food for emotional reasons for years or have been caught up in a cycle of binge eating. Itâ€™s not easy, but it is possible.
The process involves first committing to a process of careful inquiry. This means being an objective scientist, one who is studying your own internal processes. Itâ€™s hard to be objective when weâ€™re talking about ourselves and our own experiences, so struggling initially is natural and doesnâ€™t mean you arenâ€™t capable of this.
With the lab coat on, itâ€™s time to explore whether your cravings represent physical or emotional hunger. Brian Wansink, Ph.D, consumer behavior and food expert, provides some excellent guidelines in his book, Mindless Eating.
He says that physical hunger does the following:
- Builds gradually
- Strikes below the neck
- Occurs several hours after a meal
- Goes away when full
- Eating leads to feelings of satisfaction
On the contrary, emotional hunger looks like this:
- Develops suddenly
- Strikes above the neck
- Unrelated to time
- Persists despite fullness
- Eating leads to guilt and shame
If you determine that your hunger is physical in nature, well then eat! And yes, you could be physically hungry for a hot fudge sundae. Me? I eat chocolate every day.
But if you discover that your hunger has more emotional roots, it may be time to do a bit more exploring. Asking yourself questions these could get your started:
â€œWhat might I be doing or think about right now if I werenâ€™t focused on my hunger?â€
“Why am I hungry for this particular food?” (hint: there is meaning in our food choices!)
If you find yourself coming up against a brick wall with these questions or continuing to overeat despite making changes in other areas of your life, you may want to talk to your doctor or mental health professional.