On any given day, the many facets of hunger may surface, spanning from physical hunger through emotional down to end-of-day energy dips that call for food. The fundamental type of hunger is physical – it cannot be ignored and only grows insatiable over time, as a sign that your body is out of juice. However the other types are just as valuable and provide valuable clues into the depths of what’s within.
Emotional hunger – Here, there may be an unmet need for rest, acceptance, community, autonomy, self-expression, exploration, etc. What manifests may be an insatiable appetite or craving for sweets, untethered to physical hunger/fullness cues.
Thirst hunger – This one is relatively straight-forward. Without proper hydration throughout the day, the body will want to reach for water-rich and refreshing foods like fruit, soup, etc. Without properly tuning in, the body may reach for food in general out of confusion.
Energy hunger – This generally happens during afternoon slumps or many hours after dinner. When the body requires rest but there is the need to push through, get more work done, or stay up later, it will reach for food as a quick boost of energy to stay awake.
Hormone-related hunger – This one manifests through a few pathways.
- Insulin resistance & carb cravings: For those who live off of carbs/sugar at most meals and snacks, there may be a very real dependence on carbs as the main source of fuel. Over time, this causes the body to consistently ride a blood sugar and insulin roller coaster day in and day out. Remember insulin is the hormone that provides your cells w/ energy, however over time one’s body might become resistant to insulin surges because it is just plain tired, making it harder to extract energy from carbs, causing cravings to exacerbate.
- Cortisol & carb cravings: For those who are on high-alert stress all day everyday, this causes the stress hormone cortisol to remain elevated throughout the day when it should be tapering off by late morning. The chronic high levels of cortisol cause the body to want boosts of carbs for energy while at the same time storing the excess as fat.
- Female hormones & appetite: The menstrual cycle each month directs a symphony of hormone fluctuations. Estrogen is dominant in the first half of a woman’s cycle, a hormone that reduces appetite. Progesterone which rises in the second half before menstruation is a calming hormone however increases appetite which correlates w/ the more food-focused behavior many women experience. Thankfully, metabolism/calorie burning really kicks in and increases during this time so it largely balances out in the end. However any imbalances in these reproductive hormones can lead to PMS symptoms, PCOS, etc which can directly impact appetite.
To reiterate, physical hunger is not the end all be all.
There are so many other types of hunger that need to be noticed and understood. Once there is awareness of what is surfacing, there is more reflecting to do. Uncovering the why and then being able to trace what leads to one vs another type of hunger can lead to decisions that serve the body.