Updated: Apr 14, 2022
By Abby Emmert M.A. & Gabby Morreale MA LPC.
Like us, you might be today-years-old when you learn that there are four different types of hunger. When we are counseling those with eating disorders, it's usually shocking to them to find out that we often eat (75% of the time!) based on hunger that isn’t even physically driven! This may seem really confusing because eating in the absence of hunger seems....unnatural? But we promise, this is normal! And we will show you why!
First, we should go over the hunger scale, which we always share with clients in sessions! For clients struggling with eating disorders or disordered eating habits, loss of understanding or having hunger and fullness cues is normal. Don’t worry though, it's so incredibly fixable!!
After so much time restriction or binge eating, it can be really difficult to have normal hunger and fullness cues, or understand what they feel like when you do have them. But don't be scared! This is normal in treatment and recovery! Also you are not alone, we can figure it out together. This is why we start with the hunger scale. You can search “hunger scale” on the internet and many options will come up. One of my favorites comes from the Intuitive Eating Mindset website which we will include at the bottom.
As you can see, this is a ten point scale, one being starving and the most hungry you can be and ten being the most full that you could be. Each point on the scale is labeled by what each ranking means, and underneath you can see there is a deeper explanation of what you might be thinking or feeling along each point on the scale. We find that most people stick to a 3 for hunger and a 7-8 for fullness to be comfortable. Past that can also be “normal” in certain circumstances, and nothing to worry about. For those recovering, even understanding where they fall on this scale can be confusing! Which is okay. What we like to do often with the hunger and fullness scale is and recall positive times you may have felt each one. We also can take time to process negative experiences with different ones if needed as well. This is hard work my friends but so important for recovery and you are so capable!
Also another intervention we like to use to promote some mind body awareness is work through each type of hunger. As stated earlier in the article, there are four types of hunger. These four types are: Physical, Taste, Emotional, and Practical. Physical may be the type that many associate natural hunger to!
Physical is the one that we are “taught” to identify and listen to most, but also told to ignore and disobey by diet culture. Physical hunger is based entirely on the presence of hunger cues from the body like growling or fluttering in your stomach, maybe a headache for some, anxiety, or shakiness in your body. Every body is different, so how you experience it will be different from the next person! For example, Abby learned in recovery that she gets headaches before her stomach growls when she needs nourishment. However, for another person, headaches may just mean dehydration or pressure change! That's why learning how YOUR body communicates to you is so important rather than listening to a random person on the internet ;) No Tammy from TikTok we will not listen to your uninformed “nutritional” advice...thanks.
The next type of hunger is Taste. Taste hunger we like to call plainly as cravings! Taste hunger comes from craving a specific food and wanting it, even in the absence of physical hunger! YES. Eating in the absence of physical hunger is completely normal! An example of this would be that during Abby’s recovery, she craved hamburgers often. Even when she wasn’t hungry, she was craving the taste of them.
Turns out, she was very low in Iron and her body was craving that vitamin. Using her mind to think about hamburgers was her body’s way of telling her it needed something. Aren’t our bodies amazing! Now, our bodies don’t always have cravings based on physical needs but sometimes it does. A big part of healing is learning to listen and trust your body. So, another example of a craving, a very common one in fact, often referred to as a palette cleanser is sweets after meals. There is nothing wrong with this no matter what diet culture or other have told you craving sweets is normal. Also they are delicious so even if you are feeling full after a meal it is more than ok to allow yourself to listen to your body and enjoy sweet treats. These cravings are perfectly normal and not something that needs to be feared.
The third type of hunger we will discuss is Emotional. This is a very hard one to trust, and one that we have been taught is problematic or wrong in diet culture.We are here to correct this wrong information...emotional eating is completely normal! Not a crime or a Sin or whatever other silly thing someone told you it was! This idea that emotional eating is “bad” is quite problematic and can lead to disordered eating and eating disorders.
The secret here is that food is supposed to be pleasurable! It is supposed to bring joy and can make you feel happy! Food is comforting and has the ability to make us feel happy even during difficult times. Think about it when someone passes away everyone brings food. This is not because food will take away the grief or fix the loss but bring comfort and as far as we are concerned there is nothing wrong with that or any type of comfort food can offer. Now, we will say, if this is the ONLY way you're finding comfort these days, or the only way you find yourself coping, then we would want to talk about adding in some additional ways to cope and find joy. At Recovered and Restored we like options. Also check out our article on emotional eating at the bottom if you want to get more of an understanding on this topic.
Lastly, we have Practical hunger and can fall under mechanical eating which is a very important part of recovery. This hunger is one that many struggle with understanding is a completely normal option! Responding to Practical hunger usually comes from anticipating physical hunger in the future that you may not be able to satisfy in the moment, and it can also happen in the absence of physical cues! Great real life examples of this are:
You are taking a long trip with your family and your flight leaves sometime after lunch. You’re assuming you won’t be able to eat until after dinner time next, so you and your family have a large lunch and pack snacks in your backpack so you aren't left at a 1 or 0 on the hunger scale along your trip!
You have to go with your mom to pick up your brother from soccer practice. You had lunch a couple hours ago, and even though you're not hungry, you think between getting in the car right now and coming back from the practice, you may be really hungry at that point before dinner. You bring some snacks in the car with you so that you can eat when you get hungry and not wait for dinner when you will be far past a comfortable hunger level!
It is perfectly okay to anticipate hunger even if it is not present at the moment! It is also perfectly normal to eat on the go! In fact, that is necessary in many points in life. We know these concepts may be really hard to understand, especially if you are struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating. You don’t have to do this alone! Check out the resources below, and other articles on our website for some help! If you are struggling with this concept specifically, reach out to work with a therapist in the meantime so we can get you back to trusting your body!
We have immediate openings right now for eating disorder therapy in:
Delaware, New Jersey, Florida, and Pennsylvania.
And recovery coaching worldwide.
Recovered and Restored is an eating disorder therapy center founded by Gabrielle Morreale. We specialize in helping teens and young women heal from eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, and binge eating disorder and treat disordered eating, anxiety, depression, and PTSD. We provide eating disorder therapy in the towns of Horsham, Upper Gwynedd, Lower Gwynedd, North Wales, Lansdale, Hatfield, Blue Bell, Doylestown, and nearby towns with eating disorder therapy. Also providing virtual eating disorder therapy in New Jersey, Delaware, and Florida. Some towns served virtually but are not limited to Pittsburg, Lancaster, Harrisburg, Center City, Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Mount Laurel, Cape May, Avalon, Brick, Dover, New Castle, Bethany Beach, Marydel, and Oceanview.
Click here to get started with therapy today! : https://www.recoveredandrestoredtherapy.com/.