What is Head hunger vs Belly hunger?
Head hunger is emotional hunger and Belly hunger is physical hunger. They can feel exactly the same, unless you know how to tell them apart.
When we eat in response to head hunger, we’re feeding our body calories it does not need. Unneeded calories can cause poor weight loss and weight regain. Even after weight loss surgery, head hunger can make your weight loss journey challenging.
Learning to eat in response to physical hunger and not head hunger can allow you to fuel your body properly and avoid an emotional eating episode.
Key Differences between Head Hunger and Belly Hunger
Below is a chart to help you learn the difference between head hunger and belly hunger. Once you can spot which is which, you’ll know when it’s safe to trust your hunger cues.
|Comes on suddenly and has no relation to when you last ate. Head hunger can hit you at any time.
If you ate within an hour or two and think you are hungry; think again! You probably are experiencing head hunger.
|Comes on gradually and builds to stronger and stronger hunger pangs.
Belly hunger is directly related to when you last ate. True belly hunger usually starts a few hours after a meal.
|You are craving a particular food (sweets, salty or any comfort food).||You are not picky or craving anything in particular. In other words, you are truly hungry and need to eat.|
|You want to eat right away. You can’t wait.||You can usually wait to eat.|
|Head hunger is often associated with an emotion (stress, anger, depression, anxiety, etc.) that makes you “think” you are hungry. Head hunger can also be associated with an activity. For example, if you usually eat while you watch TV, you may begin to associate watching TV with eating and start to “feel” hungry every time you watch TV.||Belly hunger occurs because you “need” to fuel your body and is not related to an emotion or any particular activity.|
|You usually binge, overeat and/or mindlessly eat. You eat to fill a void or quell a painful feeling. Some may overeat to the point of being in pain.||You do not usually overeat, binge or mindlessly eat and stop when you are comfortably full.|
|Eating in response to head hunger is usually followed by feelings of guilt and/or shame.||When we eat in response to belly hunger we do not feel guilt or shame. We ate because our bodies needed the fuel.|
What do I do when I feel hungry?
Do not assume if you feel hungry that you need to eat. Instead, ask yourself this:
“When did I last eat?”
If you last ate within 1-2 hours, it doesn’t make sense that you would be truly hungry. You’re most likely experiencing head hunger. So what should you do when facing head hunger?
Find something else to occupy your mind and your hands.
When we’re busy with other activities, we tend not to focus on food. If you’re eating due to stress, depression or another emotion, get the help you need to learn better coping strategies. Using food to cope with emotions will hinder your weight loss journey. Working with a therapist that can teach you more healthful ways of dealing with emotions can help you better achieve your weight loss goals.
For more support and information, or to schedule an appointment with Lori, call our office at (732)982-2002. You can also find more nutrition tips on our Dietician’s Corner page.
We’re here to help!
Dietitian’s Corner by Lori Skurbe
Dietitian’s Corner is a monthly column for post-op and pre-op patients of bariatric surgery in NJ written by Prime Surgicare’s Lori Skurbe. Lori has been a dietitian for over 20 years with an extensive background in weight management, bariatric nutrition and diabetes education.