Am I Hungry or Bored?

Bored Girl

Many people struggle with boredom eating, or eating to pass the time - even if they're not truly hungry. In fact, boredom eating and other forms of emotional eating may contribute to excess weight gain. This article explains how to tell whether you're hungry or bored, offers a guide to hunger triggers, and provides strategies to help stave off boredom eating and emotional eating.

What is hunger?

Hunger can be difficult to define, as it involves a complex interplay of hormones, biochemical processes, and physical reactions. Generally speaking, there are two types of hunger - physical and psychological.

Physical hunger can be defined as your body's drive to eat for survival, while psychological hunger is based more on cravings or external cues.

Psychological hunger triggers

Whereas physical hunger is triggered by an empty stomach and driven by your body's need to procure more energy, many factors play into psychological hunger. Here are some of the most common psychological hunger triggers.

Boredom Boredom is one trigger for psychological hunger. People who are prone to boredom may be more likely to overeat or emotionally eat.

Stress Chronic mental stress may alter your hunger hormones, triggering food cravings. Such hormonal changes may cause people with excess weight to be more susceptible to stress-induced food cravings.

Social Eating When people around you are eating or drinking, you may be more likely to do so - even if you're not hungry.

Advertising If you've ever had a food craving triggered by a television commercial, you know that advertising can be a powerful trigger for psychological hunger.

Poor sleep Sleep may have a powerful effect on your eating habits. Some studies show that adults who don't get enough sleep eat more calories, snack more, and are more likely to gain weight.

Hyperpalatable foods Certain highly processed items like potato chips, candy, and fast food are considered hyperpalatable - they're designed to taste delicious and immediately reward your brain.

How to tell whether you're truly hungry

True hunger and thirst feel different than boredom. Bear in mind that you need to fuel your body regularly to maintain your health and provide energy to get you through your day.

Some people skip meals when they're trying to lose weight, which is often counterproductive, as waiting too long between meals may lead to overeating. As such, it's important to eat when you're hungry - not wait until you're ravenous. If you recently ate a balanced meal and are craving more food, the craving is likely psychological. However, if you haven't eaten in several hours and are experiencing signs of physical hunger, you're probably hungry and need to eat a meal or snack.

The early signs of true hunger may include mild hunger pangs, a feeling of emptiness in your stomach, and stomach rumbling. However, these signs may differ from person to person.

Additionally, true physical thirst may often be accompanied by a dry mouth or slight itch in your throat, as well as a desire to drink any beverage - including plain water. On the other hand, psychological thirst may manifest as a craving for a specific drink, such as soft drink.

Likewise, if you crave a particular food and won't eat unless you can have it, you're likely experiencing a psychological craving and not actual hunger. True physical hunger, especially if you reach a point of urgent hunger, is much less discriminating.

The bottom line is that if you are experiencing a food craving - which is almost always for an unhealthy food - there's no physiological necessity for that food.