Decoding the Hunger Dilemma Regain Control and Make Healthier Choices

Decoding the Hunger Dilemma: Regain Control and Make Healthier Choices

Reading Time: 8 minutes



Have you ever felt caught in a whirlwind of conflicting voices about how you deal with hunger?

Me: I'm hungry!
Inner voice #1: Eat!
Inner voice #2: Or maybe not???
Inner voice #3: EAT!
Me: ... [slight panic attack]

The battle between "eat now" and "maybe not" can confuse and frustrate us. In our modern world, where food is abundant and temptations galore, it becomes crucial to understand the different types of hunger.

This will allow you to reclaim your ability to make conscious choices.

Let's delve into the nuances of appetite and discover practical strategies to establish or re-establish a healthy relationship with food.

Unraveling the Three Kinds of Hunger:


Physiological hunger, trivially called "real hunger," is our body's biological signal that it needs nourishment. Physiological hunger leaves cues.

Indeed, the first indicator that you are dealing with a physiological need is that several hours have elapsed since your last meal. Something might be off if you feel hunger pangs less than 4 hours after a full meal.

Your second cue is a rumbling stomach.

During digestion, the whole GI tract is animated by peristalsis, a series of motions that help mix foods with gastric and pancreatic juices. Peristalsis also helps move food along the digestive tract. Overall it allows better digestion.

When digestion is over, the migrating motor complex (MMC) starts. The MMC is often described as a housekeeping phenomenon since it helps move undigested foods along the GI tract for expulsion.

At any rate, the gurgling sounds, known as borborygmus, made by your stomach when you are getting hungry, originate from the MMC.

These rumbling sounds are amplified by the fact that your stomach is empty.

Another sign is waning energy. Aside from pathological states stemming from an inability to extract energy from food, feelings of sluggishness or tiredness at unreasonable hours might indicate that you are running low on fuel.

Irritability might also be a sign. There is a reason why 'hangry' became a word. Grumpiness is often attributed to low blood sugar. And indeed, low blood sugar rimes with increased adrenaline.

Higher than normal adrenaline levels can make you short-fused. So, yes, a bad mood can signal that you deserve a snack.

These tell-tale cues help us identify genuine hunger. It's essential to pay attention and respond to physiological needs appropriately.

This is a way to reclaim the body-mind connection and restore a healthy relationship with food.


Psychological hunger goes beyond physical nourishment and relates to our emotional connection to food.

The psychological side of the hunger coin makes us seek comfort through eating in response to emotions like anxiety, sadness, or other upsetting feelings.
Food becomes a source of comfort and temporary relief from negative feelings.
This tendency is often shaped by upbringing and learned behaviors related to food. It may reflect a lack of emotional maturity. Understanding and addressing psychological hunger is critical to making mindful choices.

PSYCHOLOGICAL HUNGEROne of the critical aspects of addressing psychological hunger is recognizing the triggers that lead to impulsive eating.
Keeping a food/emotional diary can help understand the patterns and emotions associated with overeating. Beware that this might be a difficult and unpleasant exercise since it will force you to confront feelings you'd rather keep buried.

Confronting buried emotions and acknowledging moments of deviation from an idealized version of oneself can be difficult.
By becoming aware of these emotional triggers, individuals can take steps to address their underlying emotional needs without relying on food.
It is common for individuals to aspire to be fitness heroes, adhering perfectly to their diet and exercise routines.

However, it's crucial to recognize that the journey to discipline and a healthier relationship with food is a learning process. Embracing the understanding that there will always be a difference between the idealized version of oneself and the actual self can help avoid feelings of worthlessness.

Remember, the goal is not perfection but rather a gradual and sustainable improvement in health and well-being. Embracing the journey with self-acceptance and kindness can lead to a more positive and balanced approach to health and fitness.

Ultimately, finding alternative coping mechanisms is essential instead of turning to food for emotional comfort. Meditation, journaling, or talking to a supportive friend can help manage emotions more effectively. Seeking professional help from therapists or counselors can also benefit individuals struggling with emotional eating patterns.

Exercise remains an effective strategy. During negative emotions, cortisol, a stress hormone, is often released. Engaging in physical activities like weight lifting can serve as a constructive outlet to harness this upsurge in energy and channel it to your advantage.


Our environment plays a significant role in stimulating our senses and influencing our eating behaviors. While opportunistic eating served us well in our evolutionary past, the modern food landscape poses challenges.

Calorically dense foods are available around the clock, tempting us with their allure. This environmental hunger disrupts our balance and makes developing strategies to navigate food abundance necessary.

Environmental hunger refers to the influence of our surroundings on our eating behaviors. Our modern society constantly surrounds us with food cues, advertisements, and easy access to highly palatable and calorie-dense foods. This abundance of food choices can lead to mindless eating and overconsumption, even when not physically hungry.

Practicing mindful eating is a powerful tool to combat environmental hunger. By paying attention to the taste, texture, and enjoyment of each bite, individuals can slow their eating pace, become more attuned to their body's signals of fullness, and make conscious choices about what and how much to eat.

The digestive process is both mental and mechanical and begins well before food enters your mouth. Pacing yourself when eating and taking time to cook your own can work wonders in terms of satiety.

Surrounding oneself with a supportive environment can also help manage environmental hunger. Keeping healthy and nutritious foods readily available at home, workplace, and other frequented places can make it easier to make healthier food choices.

Additionally, reducing exposure to food advertisements and avoiding situations that trigger mindless eating can further support a balanced approach to eating.

Social gatherings and peer influence can also contribute to environmental hunger. It's essential to be assertive about one's dietary choices and not succumb to peer pressure or social norms that may promote excessive eating or unhealthy food choices.

Establishing a System of Control

One of the challenges we face in modern society is the deterioration of our energy management systems.

This devalues the signals of physiological hunger and allows psychological and environmental influences to dominate our eating habits. Achieving a balanced approach to the different types of hunger becomes increasingly complex, leading to imbalances and potential health consequences.

Addressing the underlying issue of energy management system deterioration is crucial.

Adopting a balanced "diet" that nourishes our body's needs while taming psychological and environmental hunger is vital to rebalancing our overall hunger experience.

Yet, in this fast-paced world, we need modern solutions to restore equilibrium in our relationship with food. Awareness of the different types of hunger empowers you to make better choices and regain control over your eating habits.

You can create distance between the hunger stimulus and your reaction by implementing an "IF...THEN" system and using a decision tree approach. Asking yourself critical questions, such as whether you would choose a steak and salad or a cheese-dripping hamburger, helps you evaluate your needs and make conscious decisions.

The "IF...THEN" system is a decision-making tool creating a logical structure for making choices based on specific hunger cues. By setting up conditional statements, individuals can be more mindful and deliberate in their eating decisions. Let's explore how this system can be applied to each type of hunger:


IF it has been several hours since your last meal (at least 4 hours),
THEN consider having a balanced and nutritious meal or snack to nourish your body.
Example: You realize you haven't eaten anything since breakfast, and it's mid-afternoon. Your body gives you cues of hunger, such as a growling stomach and tiredness. You apply the "IF...THEN" system and have a light, healthy snack like beef jerky and some nuts to fuel your body until dinner.


IF you are feeling emotional, stressed, or anxious,
THEN explore alternative coping mechanisms that don't involve food.
Example: After a tough day at work, you come home feeling stressed and upset. You notice the urge to raid the fridge for comfort food. Instead, you apply the "IF...THEN" system and go for a short walk outside to clear your mind and relieve stress. You realize that you seek emotional comfort through food but choose a non-food solution to address your feelings.
IF you still feel the urge to eat emotionally after trying stress-relief activities,
THEN choose a small portion of a comforting but healthier food option, like a warm cup of herbal tea or a small bowl of low-calorie soup.


IF you find yourself surrounded by tempting food cues or in a social setting with excessive food availability,
THEN remind yourself of your health goals and stick to a predetermined plan.
Example: You're at a birthday party with a buffet table filled with delicious but unhealthy snacks and desserts. You feel tempted to indulge in everything on the table. However, you apply the "IF...THEN" system and remind yourself of your goal to eat mindfully and avoid overindulging. You fill your plate with mostly veggies and a small portion of the treats you enjoy.


Late-Night Cravings:
Scenario: It's late at night, and you're watching TV. Suddenly, you feel a craving for something sweet.
IF it has been less than 2 hours since your last meal,
THEN drink a glass of water and wait for 15 minutes to see if the craving subsides.
IF the craving persists after 15 minutes,
THEN choose a healthier option, such as a piece of dark chocolate or a small bowl of cottage cheese and berries, rather than indulging in high-calorie sweets.

Office Snacking:

Scenario: You're at the office, and your coworker brings a box of donuts to share.
IF you see the tempting donuts and feel the urge to eat,
THEN remind yourself of your health goals and ask yourself if you are starving or just environmental hunger. You may want to send your coach a quick message, it is likely that even thinking about it will bring you back to your senses…

Weekend Indulgences:

Scenario: It's the weekend, and you're going out with friends for a meal.
IF you're going out to eat at a restaurant,
THEN preview the menu online and decide on a healthier option before you go to avoid impulsive choices.
IF you want to enjoy a treat or dessert during the weekend,
THEN plan for it by making healthier food choices leading up to the event, so you can indulge without guilt.

By applying the "IF...THEN" system and understanding the different types of hunger, individuals can navigate various hunger situations with mindfulness and self-awareness.


Whether it's physiological, psychological, or environmental hunger, having specific strategies and examples helps people make better choices, reclaim control over their eating habits, and establish a healthier relationship with food.

Remember, the key is to embrace a balanced approach to nourishment and self-acceptance while striving for gradual and sustainable improvement in health and well-being.

Reclaiming trust in our body's signals is essential in a world where our hunger cues are often obscured by conflicting voices. Understanding the nuances of physiological, psychological, and environmental hunger enables us to make informed choices and establish a healthier relationship with food.

By implementing modern strategies like the "IF...THEN" system and critical questioning, we can regain control over our eating habits and find a balanced approach to nourishment. Embrace the power to decipher your hunger and embark on a journey toward wellness and self-awareness.

Take-away points

• There are three types of hunger: physiological, psychological, and environmental.
• Physiological hunger is characterized by extended hours since the last meal, stomach rumbling, waning energy, and irritability.
• Psychological hunger involves seeking comfort through food in response to emotional states. It can be influenced by upbringing and emotional maturity.
• Environmental hunger is stimulated by the constant availability of calorically dense foods, disrupting our eating habits.
• Awareness of different types of hunger helps make better choices and regain control over eating habits.
• Implementing an "IF...THEN" system and a decision tree approach can create distance from impulsive eating reactions.
• Deterioration of energy management systems devalues physiological hunger signals, leading to an imbalance in the influence of other types of hunger.
• Modern solutions involve adopting a balanced "diet" to address all types of hunger and rebalance our eating habits.


Scroll to Top