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Am I Actually Hungry? Psychological vs Physical Hunger


How many times have you asked yourself this question when trying to lose weight? Learn how to distinguish real hunger from the desire to eat.

Thinking about joining a weight loss program? Maybe you’re already on one or just fell off the wagon by eating foods you agreed to avoid. Wherever you are in your weight loss journey, when and what you eat is not that simple.


Many factors go into why we eat. It seems obvious to eat when you’re hungry, however, as humans who experience stress, social obligations, time constraints, and ideas about food, we also eat for a lot of other reasons.


This is important to note because eating when you are not physically hungry may be one of the main reasons you’re not losing weight or staying on track with your recommended nutrition plan.

The difference between physical hunger and psychological hunger.

Physical hunger is experienced in the body as stomach emptiness, grumbling, and a sense of weakness. These are called hunger cues and a clear sign from your body that you need to eat. As you eat, those feelings will reduce until you begin to feel full. A sense of feeling satiated and maybe a gentle pressure in the stomach will replace the grumblings of hunger.


Physical signs you are hungry:

  • Stomach growling
  • Low energy
  • Shakiness
  • Headaches
  • Problems focusing


Psychological hunger can come from a habit, like always having pizza on Fridays, a craving after watching a TV commercial, or opening the fridge out of boredom and finding a snack for something to do. In these cases, you may not actually be hungry.


Your mind has the idea of eating and that’s what motivates you to eat. The hunger cue is not coming from the stomach or the need for nutritional energy.


Psychological hunger creates eating habits that often cause weight gain and prevent weight loss. They are motivated by your thoughts about food or a need to cope with something else in your environment, and your emotional or mental state.


The problem with psychological hunger is it often leads to overeating because you are not physically hungry; hunger cues are not active to tell you to stop eating.

Stop sabotaging, start building mindful eating habits.

Eating when psychologically hungry may be difficult to distinguish because the mind is very powerful, and often you’ve had these habits for years. However, unconscious or emotional overeating is one of the root causes why you may be struggling to lose weight.


It’s important to address these habits when beginning a weight loss plan or if you’re simply looking to be more mindful about your nutrition.


Some helpful questions to ask yourself when you feel “hungry”:

  • Check in with your physical body, notice sensations and if your “hunger” is coming from physical hunger cues
  • Do you simply have a desire to eat food again because something looks good?
  • Are you still hungry or do you feel like you have to clear your plate?
  • Are you hungry or are you eating as a reward for something you did today?
  • Do you want to eat as a comfort for something that you’re feeling?


Also, begin to notice any patterns you may have in your routine: do you always reach for a pastry with your coffee, snack on chips while you watch TV, go for ice cream after a stressful day at work?


When you become aware of these habits, you can begin to modify the behavior and build more mindfulness around your eating. Maybe replacing snacking with something healthier or another activity that’s not eating to help with the emotions you’re experiencing.

Additional support for developing healthy eating habits and keeping the weight off.

It’s difficult to make lifestyle changes without the proper guidance and support. At Forum Health, our Health Coaches are trained experts to help you build better habits and stick to them through nutrition education and accountability. Explore health coaching.


If you qualify, Forum Health’s Medical Weight Loss Program with Semaglutide helps curb your appetite by working with the hormones in your body that signal hunger cues. It gives you an opportunity to develop more mindful eating habits without the constant mental struggle of overeating. Explore Forum Health’s Medical Weight Loss Program with Semaglutide.


The goal isn’t to be perfect. Of course enjoying all food in moderation and in a way that contributes to your overall wellbeing is the goal. Learning more about your eating habits will leave you feeling empowered about your nutrition and overall health!