The Types of Hunger

Hello everyone! The discussion on the table today is the types of hunger.

Hunger is a funny thing. Even though it may manifest as just being “hungry,” that single feeling leading us to the fridge or the pantry can be caused by several factors.

Mindful eating focuses on an important step, intention. This can be a pretty powerful element when you make meal and snack decisions. Let’s take a look at some of the situations that make us feel hungry. We will also explore how we can use mindful eating as a tool to address the various types of hunger and help manage prediabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Type of Hunger: Physical

Your stomach begins to growl, it may feel empty, and overtime this may progress to discomfort and feelings like nausea. This collection of symptoms is associated with a phenomenon called “hunger pangs.”

Of all the different reasons that you may feel hungry, physical is the type of hunger that is probably the most well-known.

Physical hunger is your body’s way of signaling that it is looking for nourishment. When you are trying to manage prediabetes, or insulin resistance, recognizing physical hunger is very important to prevent blood sugar levels from taking drastic spikes and dips.

 Mindful Eating Tip:

Tune into your body’s cues: It is very easy to overeat with this type of hunger and feel groggy and fatigued afterwards. Remember that we usually eat food to energize us, and not way us down.

As you eat, keep in mind that you need to give your body time to analyze the food you have swallowed and send signals to your brain. These signals tell the brain if you should have more food or if your stomach is filled up to a comfortable capacity.

Savor each bite. Enjoy the smell, the texture, and the flavor of the food. Another great thing to do is eat with friends and family. Put down your phone for a few minutes just to catch up in conversation with each other.

 Mealtimes are a great way to live in the moment that you are in. Look around the room that you are eating in and grasp your environment.

When you take a bite, chew each piece thoroughly to help your digestion and reduce the likelihood of choking.

Taking these steps will allow you to gain knowledge of your environment, the people around you, help your digestion, and give your brain enough time to receive signals of fullness from your body.

Type of Hunger: Emotional

Now this type of hunger can be tricky. Emotional hunger is often confused with physical hunger.

The difference with emotional eating is that signals are coming solely from your mind and not other parts of your body.

This can mean that in times of strong emotions like stress, sadness, boredom, or even happiness, you may feel tempted to eat.

You can think of it as a way your mind is attempting to regulate itself by doing something it can easily accomplish, like eating.

It is probable that you may crave a specific food. This is usually something that you associate with feelings of comfort, AKA comfort foods.

If you have a sweet tooth, like me, you may be looking for dessert foods or candy. Other people may seek savory or salty foods like macaroni and cheese, potato chips or salty nuts.

Woman stress-eating while sitting on a couch

Mindful Eating Tip:

Pause and reflect: Before reaching for food, think about how you feel. Are you truly physically hungry, or are you seeking a type of mental or emotional comfort? If you are experiencing this type of hunger, consider a few other alternatives to eating.

When you recognize stress, maybe you need to take a break from the task or situation that is causing you to feel pressured. Take slow, deep breaths. Then spend some time doing an activity you find relaxing. For example, a warm bath, meditation or yoga could be effective alternatives to eating. For more tips on handling stress visit Harvard Health Publishing.

If you sense that sadness is the source of hunger, consider talking with someone you trust. You might also find journaling helpful. Writing down thoughts can help you validate feelings and work through what is bothering you. If you are suffering from ongoing depression, please talk with your healthcare provider about suitable long-term treatments. To find more information on dealing with sadness go to Psychology Today.

If you recognize emotional hunger when you are feeling energized, happy, or bored, try doing an activity that requires physical work. This could be gardening, going for a walk, woodworking, crocheting, pottery, decorating, or anything that requires both mental and physical effort that is enjoyable for you.


Type of Hunger: Sensory

Think about a time when you were in a shopping mall or walking along the street and passed a bakery. At that point, you smell the fresh bread and cookies baking, and you feel compelled to go inside.

Maybe you are in an amusement park, and you smell the cotton candy, funnel cakes, turkey legs, or deep-fried pickles at a stand. Suddenly, you may think to yourself, “Yeah, I could eat.”

You may be sitting down watching an advertisement for a restaurant and your mouth starts to water.

These are all examples of a phenomenon called sensory hunger. This type of hunger is driven by the desire to experience the pleasure of eating, which is often stimulated by the sight, smell, or taste of food.

 Mindful Eating Tip:

 Engage your senses mindfully. When you encounter tempting aromas or visually appealing foods, pause and savor the moment. You can enjoy the sensory experience without necessarily indulging in every temptation.

If that is not enough to distract you from wanting to eat something, set your attention on another task. Whether it is stopping by a clothing store, going to ride a roller coaster, or straightening up a room in the house.

Just remember that nine times out of ten, that food will still be available to you when you are truly hungry. There is no need to rush to eat a delicious looking meal or snack at that precise moment.

Type of Hunger: Habitual

 You may feel this type of hunger simply because it’s your usual mealtime, even if your body doesn’t need nourishment. 

Mindful Eating Tip:

Break the routine: Challenge yourself to break the cycle of habitual eating. If you’re not genuinely hungry, consider delaying your meal or having a small, nutritious snack instead. 

Keep in mind, however, that your body does need nourishment on a regular basis. If you are dealing with a poor appetite or decreased desire to eat, it may be appropriate for you to stick to an eating schedule ensure you get enough nutrition. To learn more about what composes a well-balanced diet, check out MyPlate.

Type of Hunger: Social

This is a type of hunger that your experience around your family, coworkers, or friends when you eat with them. You may not feel hungry when you sit down with them for a meal. Yet you feel compelled to eat something along with them.

This is called Social hunger. It is hunger that occurs in social settings or during gatherings, where the desire to fit in or please others can lead to overeating. It’s the pressure to eat when you’re not hungry because everyone else is. 

People gathered around restaurant table to eat. The type of hunger that could occur in this setting is social hunger.

 Mindful Eating Tip:

With this type of hunger, be mindful of social cues. While it’s essential to enjoy social meals, practice listening to your body. Politely decline seconds if you’re satisfied, and remember that it’s okay to prioritize your health. 

If you still feel pressured by others to eat, you can always ask for a to-go container of food instead. Then you give them the satisfaction that you have a meal, while keeping yourself from overeating.

Mindfulness and the Types of Hunger

Mindfulness is the state of being in tune with your body’s true needs. It can help you recognize the different types of hunger, so you can respond to them consciously. It does not mean that you never eat in response to types of hunger other than physical.

Mindfulness puts you in charge. You don’t have to be controlled by the different types of hunger. You get to decide when, why, and what you eat based on your specific goals.

 Mindful Eating Tip:

Practice mindful awareness: Cultivate the habit of pausing before eating to assess your hunger. Ask yourself questions like “Am I physically hungry?” and “What type of hunger am I experiencing right now?” 

Once you have decided what type of hunger you are experiencing, then you can determine if, or what, you want to eat.

The key is making sure you pay attention and take charge of the different types of hunger so you can make healthy, intentional choices most of the time.


 Understanding the different types of hunger is a great step toward effective management of prediabetes or metabolic syndrome.

Mindful eating empowers you to differentiate between the types of hunger, enabling you to make choices that align with your health goals. It does not involve a list of diet rules or restrictions.

Remember, the goal isn’t to eliminate emotional, sensory, or social eating entirely but to bring awareness to your choices. By doing so, you can create a balanced, mindful approach to eating that supports your well-being and helps you manage prediabetes and metabolic syndrome effectively.

In the journey towards better health, mindful eating can be your compass, guiding you toward a healthier relationship with food and yourself.

This content was generated with the assistance of artificial intelligence (AI). The AI tool used for content generation was ChatGPT. The AI was utilized to help generate ideas and initial text, which was subsequently thoroughly reviewed, edited, and enhanced by The Gen X Dietitian to ensure accuracy, quality, and relevance to this topic.

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