At times it can be easy to forget that eating involves more than just addressing our physiological needs, it also includes the experience itself and the pleasure we can gain from it. By having a better understanding of taste and emotional hunger, the satisfaction factor, and how food is used to cope with our emotions, the more we can enjoy a positive eating experience.
What are the different types of hunger?
There are four types of hunger:
- Physical hunger is the body’s physiological need for food. It presents as the hunger cues that indicate our body’s need for energy, like when your stomach is growling or feels empty, and you have not eaten in a few hours.
- Practical hunger is eating when you may not be hungry, but anticipate that you will get hungry at a later time when it’s not possible to eat. For example, eating a meal or snack before a 3-hour class to prevent feeling hungry during the class.
- Taste hunger is the hunger we experience when you want a specific food. It can occur when you are already full, or at the same time as physical hunger. For example, you just finished eating a filling and balanced meal but want to have dessert after.
- Emotional hunger is the type of hunger we may get when we are experiencing uncomfortable emotions
,and have the sudden desire to eat something to help address these feelings. For example, if we are feeling really stressed we may suddenly have the desire to eat ice cream to help calm or distract ourselves.
Diet culture has conditioned us to feel ashamed of ourselves when we experience either taste hunger or emotional hunger. Eating for pleasure or comfort are very valid reasons to eat, as both play a part in our eating experiences and address needs that are beyond physiological. Having a better understanding of these different types of hunger can help us become more aware of which type of hunger we are experiencing.
What is the satisfaction factor?
There are many reasons why we may not feel satisfied after eating. Some reasons include not eating enough, or the food was not what we had in mind. If we still feel hungry after eating, we could be physically full but not satisfied.To find our satisfaction factor, you may want to ask yourself what you really want - like enjoying a dessert after dinner.
Having a satisfactory eating experience is a part of healthy eating behaviours. Not only does it enhance an experience, but it can also help us connect with others. In addition, including more foods that provide satisfaction, can help reduce the chances of overeating or bingeing. This is related to making peace with food, which you can learn more about here.
While enjoying food is an important part of finding satisfaction, the eating environment also plays a role in finding the satisfaction factor. Being distracted while eating can reduce our ability to be self-aware because we often put all of our focus on the distraction rather than on what we are eating. By limiting distractions we are often able to better respond to our body’s hunger and fullness cues. If you find that eating with distractions leaves you feeling uncomfortably or overly full after meals or unable to fully enjoy your meals, then that may be a sign that reducing the distractions may help you address the lack of satisfaction you may be experiencing.
Keep in mind that the optimal eating environment will look different for everyone and it can vary depending on how you feel or what your current surroundings are. Try to find what is most comfortable for you, whether that is eating with others or finding a space that is attractive and pleasurable to your senses.
Coping with our emotions with kindness
The term “emotional eating” is often the emotional hunger that is associated with feelings like loneliness, stress, sadness, or anxiety. Emotional eating is just another aspect of normal eating behaviour and is something that everyone experiences from time to time. If you find that turning to food does not help you better cope with your emotions, then it may be a sign to take a deeper look into what is causing these feelings. While eating is a valid type of coping mechanism, it is not the only coping mechanism. For more self-care ideas, check out this blog post.
If you find that you are experiencing these difficult emotions often, it may be helpful to connect with a mental health professional for additional support. You can find mental health resources available for UBC students and staff here and here.
As you continue to navigate and address these different types of hunger, try to explore your thoughts and feelings without judgment, as finding what works best for you can take time. If you are unsure of where to start, consider consulting a registered dietitian for guidance.
Students living in residence at UBC can speak with the Residence Dietitian. Residents of British Columbia can speak with a dietitian free of charge through 811 or find a dietitian through Dietitians of Canada.