BY: Neighbors’ Consejo|
The increase in consultations for what is known as “emotional hunger” has mental health specialist on alert, so they suggest not using food as an emotional painkiller. Although this expression is new, it corresponds to symptoms such as anxiety and anguish, and can generate major physical and mental health problems.
According to clinical psychologist Robert Firestone (Ph.D.), “Emotional hunger is not love. It is a strong emotional need caused by deprivation in childhood. It is a primitive condition of pain and longing, which people often act out, in a desperate attempt to fill a void or emptiness. This emptiness is related to the pain of aloneness and separateness and can never realistically be fully satisfied in an adult relationship  .”
In other words, emotional hunger is any eating disorder that arises from situations where the person is experiencing stress, sadness, loneliness, anxiety or boredom, including a situation of panic and uncertainty that generates anguish and therefore is leading the person to look for solutions. One of them is to eat to fill the empty mood, achieving relief that is usually temporary.
Emotional hunger has been studied in psychology, especially by the Psychosomatic Theory, which considers that overeating is linked to negative mood states such as anxiety, depression, anger and loneliness, where the person does not recognize the physiological signals of hunger and satiety, and has an activation of hunger. This can be explained as the person’s attempt to avoid reproducing painful thoughts, memories, feelings or emotions  .
Let’s review some differences between physical and emotional hunger: Physical hunger is activated by the body’s physiological need to cover energy needs, while emotional hunger is activated by an internal or external stimulus that produces a certain emotion in the person. Emotional hunger appears suddenly, even after feeling full, unlike physical hunger that appears gradually in relation to the body’s energy and nutritional reserves  .
Another difference is in satiety or fullness. In physical hunger, satiety is felt once a sufficient amount of food has been eaten, while in emotional hunger it is difficult to distinguish the sensations of satiety after food has been ingested. In the case of physical hunger, the sensation is experienced in the stomach, while in the emotional, one’s sensations are experienced in other parts of the body. Also, after responding to physical hunger, the body feels satisfied without experiencing unpleasant sensations, while when eating emotionally, feelings of guilt, sadness, frustration, anger, etc., can appear  .
Then, the person resorts to eating without stopping to cover up problems, difficulties, fears, or to fill a mood or affective void that can be associated with stress, worry or anxiety and that can become a pathological condition.
When the person experiences the feeling of hunger that is actually emotional, they usually perceive it as a very strong feeling of discomfort, sometimes with physical conditions such as excessive sweating, increased heart rate, etc., due to the lack of resources to manage the emotions that they are facing and to which many people respond with food. They even eat compulsively and turn it into a habit which can become a health risk.
However, remember that it is important that you identify if you are an emotionally eater: Do you eat more when you are feeling stressed? Do you eat when you are not hungry or when you are full? Do you eat to feel better (to calm and soothe yourself when you are sad, mad, bored, anxious, etc.)? Do you reward yourself with food? Do you regularly eat until you have stuffed yourself? Does food make you feel safe? Do you feel like food is a friend? Do you feel powerless or out of control around food  ?
Then, it is essential to understand that food is not the cause of the problem, but the escape route. You must pay attention to bodily sensations and identify and differentiate physical hunger from emotional hunger. In addition, it is necessary to practice conscious eating and seek professionals to help you understand your emotions and learn to funnel them in a healthy way, remember that throughout your process the professionals at Neighbors’ Consejo  are here to serve you.