Head Hunger Feature Image

Head Hunger: How Does it Make Weight Loss Difficult?

Head Hunger can be a significant barrier to weight loss. This article will explain “Head Hunger” and its’ counterpart “Belly Hunger”.

Strategies are presented to connect with internal cues, and rid yourself of emotional eating.

A renewed connection with internal hunger cues can support weight loss and a healthier relationship with food!

What is Head Hunger?

Head Hunger happens when you search for food to deal with uncomfortable emotions. It can also occur when you are bored and looking for a distraction.

Head Hunger; Girl emotional eating a donut

Characteristics of Head Hunger

  • Comes on quickly
  • Presents with a sense of urgency
  • Causes a craving for 1-2 specific foods
  • Eating does not typically satisfy this type of hunger

Feelings that Trigger Head Hunger

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Loneliness
  • Boredom

Head Hunger- eggs expressing different emotions

What is Belly Hunger?

Belly Hunger, or physical hunger, is the state of discomfort or weakness caused by a lack of food.

Individuals with an extensive dieting history may be disconnected from their bodies’ internal hunger cues.

Learning how to recognize and listen to your Belly Hunger is a process in the pursuit of a healthier weight.

Belly Hunger

Characteristics of Belly Hunger

  • Hunger comes on gradually.
  • Physical symptoms such as hunger pangs, stomach growling, headache, and lack of energy.
  • Allows you to choose from a variety of foods that will nourish your body.
  • Eating food leads to a feeling of satisfaction and/or fullness.

Head Hunger Infographic comparing head and belly hunger

Connect with Belly Hunger

Part of connecting with belly, or physical hunger, involves neutralizing food. Labeling foods as “good” and “bad” can disconnect you from the pleasurable aspects of eating.

Fear or shamed based thoughts make it difficult to eat satisfying foods, which in turn disrupts hunger and satiety (a desire to limit further food intake, as after completing a satisfying meal).

The Hunger Scale

Get in touch with your Belly Hunger to learn what hunger specifically feels like for you!

Using a Hunger Scale to decrease the subjective nature of hunger increases connection to internal cues.

Assign a number from the Hunger Scale below before and after meals. You’ll become in tune and aware of the difference between Belly Hunger and Head Hunger!

You can learn more about legalizing food and assessing hunger in a previous Age-Defying Dietitian blog post entitled “5 Tips to Make Peace with Food”.

Hunger Scale 1-10 for working through Head Hunger
Source: Fitness Institute of Texas

Head Hunger as a Barrier to Weight Loss

Using food to self-soothe, distract, or entertain is sure to make losing weight difficult, if not impossible!

While it is certainly healthy and normal to eat for emotional reasons at times, turning to food regularly can lead to weight gain and associated health issues.

Characteristics of Head Hunger

Head Hunger triggers an urgency to eat and involves craving specific foods. Unfortunately, most of us are not craving vegetables when we are stressed, angry, or lonely!

Typical foods sought out by Head Hunger are foods that are not conducive to weight loss (chips, cookies, fast food, etc.).

Barriers to Weight Loss

How to Get Rid of Head Hunger

  • Identify what emotion you are feeling.
  • Trust that food will only temporarily comfort you.
  • Delay eating through distraction.
  • Practice relaxation techniques-deep breathing, meditation, physical activity, etc.
  • Reach out to a friend for support.
  • Trust that you have the capacity to feel these uncomfortable feelings. This too shall pass!

Woman Relaxing Drinking Tea

Final Thoughts

Head Hunger can be a significant barrier to weight loss. This type of hunger happens when you look for food to deal with uncomfortable emotions or boredom.

Gain insight into your Belly Hunger to move away from emotional eating. Increase your connection to the physical sensations of hunger to support weight loss, and a healthier relationship with food!

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