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Feeding the "Emotional Hunger"

During my psychotherapy training, we discussed the concept of “emotional hunger” on a number of occasions, primarily in the context of eating disorders. I liked the phrase, it resonated with me immediately and has stayed with me ever since.

While I have never suffered from a diagnosable eating disorder myself, I (as most people) know that I eat differently depending on my emotional status and I am prone to over-eating when I am stressed. Not stressed as in busy – I can actually go for a vey long time without eating and the slightest feeling of hunger when I am busy. I mean the kind of stress related to boredom, loneliness, disconnectedness and purposelessness. I hate those feelings and I have turned to food for comfort in those situations. Not in the oh-so-hilarious “Bridget Jones style” – tubs of ice cream, bags of crisps or bottles of wine. But enough to qualify for a pattern. And at the same time, when I am happy, when I am in flow, when I spend my time making a meaningful contribution, when I am learning, growing and developing my own skill set, when I am with people, when I can feel my own impact – food is the last thing on my mind.

Emotional hunger comes is different forms and does not always end in “fridge therapy”. It is also not always related to an eating disorder. It’s actually perfectly human and perfectly normal. At work, at home, with friends or family, or on our own – this nagging feeling that something is missing, something isn’t quite right, that we hunger for something we are not getting can be overwhelmingly powerful, can turn the most disciplined of us into angry lemmings. Some people turn to food and alcohol, some chose cigarettes, some go for a run. Compensation is powerful.

Two great ways to distinguish physical hunger from emotional hunger, is: a) emotional hunger starts really suddenly and immediately with full force and b) it’s usually not located in your stomach.