Do you NEED to eat? Or do you just WANT to eat?

I hope everyone’s doing awesome with the challenge of the week! Good luck!

Hunger vs. appetite

This topic is probably the number one reason most people gain weight or can’t get it off.

I am guessing that every single person reading this has struggled with this at one time or another, and is finally really annoyed by it. This is a topic I discuss with my clients almost every week.

My most distinguished memory of emotional eating:

Cousin sleep over. Three of us. One cousin just broke up with her boyfriend and was crying. We immediately got in the car and bought the creamiest, chocolatiest ice cream available on planet earth. All of us grabbed a spoon, and the half gallon was gone in 10 minutes (or less?).


Sound familiar at all?

For some reason this was the topic of the week with my clients. Two in particular had stressful events happening in their lives. Their habitual, automatic response to stress was kicking in: find junk food and eat a lot of it.

They were doing their best to overcome their appetites by distracting themselves through reading, talking on the phone, and even knitting (good job you guys!!).

It’s crazy how most of us turn to food when we are sad, stressed or bored. When did that habit form? Why did it form? Does it need to be food that we turn to?

Does junk food actually make us feel better??

Once you honestly think about it, most people will realize that it doesn’t. After you eat a half gallon of ice cream—how do you feel? Is your sadness or stress decreased? Probably not. For many, that depression is still there, but now it’s coupled with regret—and ugly judgmental thoughts about yourself.

Suddenly you feel sad AND fat. Gah.

The difference between biological hunger and appetite

Biological hunger-your body actually NEEDS food in order to function properly. You may feel shaky or have a headache. Your blood sugar levels are low.

Appetite—your body is triggered by a sight, smell, memory, or feeling, and you WANT to eat. You don’t need food, but you want food.

It’s important to understand the difference between hunger and appetite. When you better understand what your body is telling you, you will avoid overeating and be able to maintain a healthy weight a lot easier.

bored stomach


Check your emotions first!!

  • Am I stressed?
  • Am I bored?
  • Am I depressed?
  • Am I thirsty?
  • Am I tired?

Now you know if it’s just appetite. You can also ask:

  • Do I need to eat, or do I want to eat?
  • Can I wait 15 min?

Rate your hunger on a scale of 1-10, 10 being extremely hungry. If the number isn’t more than a 7, I would find something else to appease your emotions.



  • Retrain your expectations. You don’t have to view food as a source of comfort. Teach your brain what sources bring you happiness and comfort. Develop a sentence like this, “I feel great when I choose a healthy way to cope with my emotions!” And then on the opposite end, “Eating to comfort myself actually makes me feel worse.”
  • Find behaviors to replace food. Create a list of comfort ACTIVITIES that will help you avoid comfort foods. Do that right now. Write a list of activities that you enjoy doing, and keep it on hand. When your appetite kicks in, you will be prepared with a new response, and soon this will become your new habit and automatic go-to! Ex:Go on a walk, call a friend, clean or organize your room, walk up the stairs 5 times, meditate, positive imagery, listen to music/podcast, write an email, stretch, work on your to-do list that is always present!
  • Memorize this sentence. “When I feel (depressed), I will (your activity), because it helps me feel (calm, relaxed, distracted, productive, positive).”

Got it??

You yourself trained your mind to turn to junk food as a response to your emotions. There’s NO reason you can’t retrain your mind to turn to something healthy as a new response.



You have control! You decide how your mind and body react. You are the trainer.

It takes time and practice, but hang in there. I did it and I feel totally free and in control. I can’t tell you how awesome that feels!

Thanks Philly’s blog and Dr. Anderson’s habits of health for helping me put this together!

Check out more on intuitive eating at: How to stop eating before you are too full. 


What are your experiences with emotional eating?

What has helped you retrain your habits?


8 thoughts on “Do you NEED to eat? Or do you just WANT to eat?

  1. So much insight and thought provoking reading here! Beyond the impact this has on me is how I am changing interactions with my grandchildren! Special moments aren’t focused on treats……distracting them and encouraging positive behaviors aren’t done with treats…. so much better for their development and healthy habits!

    • No way Sherrill! That’s a HUGE one! It’s cool to see how a change in mind frame makes an impact in so many areas of your life. Thanks for sharing!!

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  4. Oh boy, can I totally relate to this. My ice cream addiction goes back to my family. They are all ice cream addicts. We owned an ice cream shop at one point for goodness sakes. My mom always says to my dad when she doesn’t feel good, ” I don’t feel gooood” Insert puppy dog eyes and a long dramatic I don’t feel good. It taught me that we eat ice cream when we aren’t feeling well or sad. My sister keeps 3-4 half gallons of ice cream in her house at all times. I’ve gotten much better. I don’t keep ice cream in my house, and I only typically bake for people or order my cupcakes or if we are having guests for dinner. But I still struggle daily. Thanks for the tips!
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