Craving Clarity: Navigating Hunger vs. Appetite – How to Tell If You’re Truly Hungry

physical verse emotional hunger

Written By:


Ryann Nicole

Do you ever wonder if those hunger pangs are genuine or if you’re merely tempted by the idea of eating? If you’ve found yourself pondering this, you’re not alone! In a world filled with diet culture messages dictating what’s right, wrong, good, or bad, it’s easy to let our minds override our bodies. As a result, we can lose touch with our body’s true hunger cues. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with eating when you’re not ravenous, it’s essential to recognize when it starts affecting your well-being.

How to Tell If You’re Truly Hungry

To help you navigate this, here are three vital questions to ask yourself to discern between true hunger and the desire to eat:

1. How Fast Did the Desire to Eat Arise?

Hunger typically creeps up gradually, signaling that your body genuinely needs nourishment. On the other hand, if the urge to eat hits you suddenly, it might be more about emotional hunger. It’s essential to remember that in either case, it’s absolutely okay to eat. What’s crucial is to approach your meal with mindfulness. Savor your food and relish the experience, whether it’s genuine hunger or emotional cravings driving you.

2. Where Do You Feel the Desire to Eat?

Consider where you feel the desire most prominently. If it’s in your stomach, it’s more likely to be genuine hunger. However, if the longing seems to originate primarily in your mind, it might be linked to emotional hunger. Remember, in both scenarios, it’s perfectly fine to honor your feelings. If it’s emotional hunger, take some time to explore what emotions or needs you’re trying to satisfy through food.

3. What Do You Want to Eat Right Now?

Your food preferences can also offer valuable clues. If you have a preference for something but remain open to different options, it’s a sign of genuine hunger. However, if your craving is intensely fixated on a specific food, and you’d be disappointed with anything else, it’s more likely emotional hunger. Once again, whether it’s physical or emotional, you have the green light to eat. Just remember to stay present and savor the flavors of your chosen food.

Realizing that you just want to eat, rather than feeling a physical hunger pang, doesn’t mean you can’t eat. It’s essential to emphasize that we’re not setting up a rigid diet plan here, where eating outside of defined hunger moments is deemed “bad.” Instead, view this as a compassionate guide to better understand your eating patterns without judgment. It’s perfectly okay to eat when you want to eat, even when hunger isn’t the driving force. However, it’s crucial to acknowledge that if you find yourself doing this all the time, it might not leave you feeling your best. It’s all about embracing your choices with awareness and openness to better respond to your body’s needs.

The key to all of this is embracing emotional hunger without judgment but with a healthy dose of curiosity. By approaching it with an open mind, you can begin to uncover deeper needs and find more fulfilling ways to meet them.

Must Read Books To Improve Your Relationship With Food 

Just so you know, I do review everything I recommend. When you buy through links on this page, we may earn a commission.

Intuitive Eating by Elise Resch and Evelyn Tribole 

When it was first published, Intuitive Eating was revolutionary in its anti-dieting approach. The authors, both prominent health professionals in the field of nutrition and eating disorders, urge readers to embrace the goal of developing body positivity and reconnecting with one’s internal wisdom about eating―to unlearn everything they were taught about calorie-counting and other aspects of diet culture and to learn about the harm of weight stigma.

Health At Every Size by Lindo Bacon

Fat isn’t the problem. Dieting is the problem. A society that rejects anyone whose body shape or size doesn’t match an impossible ideal is the problem. A medical establishment that equates “thin” with “healthy” is the problem. The solution? Health at Every Size. Tune in to your body’s expert guidance. Find the joy in movement. Eat what you want, when you want, choosing pleasurable foods that help you to feel good. You too can feel great in your body right now—and Health at Every Size will show you how.

Anti-Diet by Christy Harrison

In Anti-Diet, Christy Harrison takes on diet culture and the multi-billion-dollar industries that profit from it, exposing all the ways it robs people of their time, money, health, and happiness. It will turn what you think you know about health and wellness upside down, as Harrison explores the history of diet culture, how it’s infiltrated the health and wellness world, how to recognize it in all its sneaky forms, and how letting go of efforts to lose weight or eat “perfectly” actually helps to improve people’s health—no matter their size. Drawing on scientific research, personal experience, and stories from patients and colleagues, Anti-Diet provides a radical alternative to diet culture, and helps readers reclaim their bodies, minds, and lives so they can focus on the things that truly matter.

Just Eat It by Laura Thomas

With a perfect blend of scientific expertise and relatable anecdotes, the author dismantles societal myths around food and body image. Through practical advice, self-reflection exercises, and a touch of humor, Thomas equips readers with the tools to break free from the cycle of diet culture, promoting self-love and nourishment. This book is an essential companion for anyone seeking to redefine their approach to food, fostering a positive and sustainable lifestyle.

Ryann Nicole

Licensed Therapist, Certified Nutritionist, and Virtual Wellness Coach

Ryann is a licensed therapist and virtual wellness coach who has assisted individuals worldwide in establishing a healthier relationship with food and their bodies.

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Ryann is a licensed therapist and virtual wellness coach who has assisted individuals worldwide in establishing a healthier relationship with food and their bodies.