Physical Hunger vs. Mental Hunger

Physical Hunger vs. Mental Hunger


Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of hunger. One is psychologically perceived, while the other is physical or “real” hunger. It is this first kind, the so-called “head hunger” that arises among people who have problems controlling their food intake. It is related to emotional eating and is not an actual physiological response to the body requiring more food, but instead it is simply an urge to eat because of habit, or seeking comfort. During a medical weight loss program, meal replacement plans like the OPTIFAST program can help you to control your portion sizes and calorie intake so that you remain full, eat less and lose weight.

It is important to recognize the difference between physical hunger and “head-hunger” so that you will not overeat or derail your weight loss efforts.

Recognizing the Difference

Physical hunger is a physiological sensation that often feels like a gnawing, empty craving for something substantial. This feeling is brought on by an interaction between your digestive system, your endocrine system and your brain. Physical hunger can be defined as:

  • An instinctive and protective mechanism that ensures that your body is getting the proper amount of fuel needed to function.
  • A physical reaction that includes chemical changes in your body that are related to low glucose levels in your body several hours after eating.

The appetite from head hunger comes from the development of a habit of turning to food in times of emotional stress and tends to be an immediate craving. Mental hunger can be defined as:

  • A sensory or psychological response to food that triggers an involuntary response such as salivating or stomach contractions.
  • A conditioned response to food.

Once you can successfully recognize the difference between when you’re really hungry compared to when it’s just in your head, you can continue to move forward towards your weight loss goals and away from harmful eating habits.

Some tips to determining if you are actually hungry are:

  • Pay attention to the time. Determine when the last time you ate was, and whether or not it is time to eat again.
  • Drink lots of water. Sometimes, you may feel hungry if you are slightly dehydrated. Try drinking a glass of water and determine how you fell afterwards.
  • Stop and think about why you’re ready to eat. Are you bored, or anxious or upset? Negative and complacent emotions can lure us towards food as a comfort.
  • Snack smart. Avoid unintentional hunger cues by enjoying snacks that are healthy and full of protein or fiber. This will regulate your blood sugar throughout the day and keep you fuller, longer.
  • Write it down. Try keeping a food journal that records what you eat and your state of mind when you chose to eat. This may help you to realize when you’re eating for the wrong reasons.

When it comes to medical weight loss, you want to make sure that you are taking the necessary steps to reaching your weight loss goals. Be smart about what you eat, but also why you’re eating it. If you believe that you are eating for any reason other than physical hunger, stop and think it over. Make sure you are making the most out of your weight loss journey and avoiding harmful eating habits.

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