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Are You Physically or Emotionally Hungry?

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCD chapter.

There are many reasons as to why you may be experiencing guilt around what and how much you are eating during these uncertain times. Our normal eating patterns & routines have been thrown for a loop. This could be due to our disrupted sleep schedules, heightened levels of stress, inability to afford nutrient-dense food and being out of touch with our natural hunger & fullness cues. 

First and foremost, the most important thing you can do to cope with guilt around food during these times, is to practice self-compassion. Cut yourself some slack; these are times to nurture our minds and souls. Many of us have plenty to worry about outside of food; money, social isolation, loneliness, and a freaking global pandemic! However, there are concrete actions you can take that can help you to get in tune with your body that will help you tap into your hunger cues and be able to classify whether you are experiencing physical or emotional “hunger.” 

By being able to navigate the difference between these, you will be able to take the proper steps to fulfill what you are in need of during these unprecedented times. In order to ideally be able to get in tune with our proper physical hunger cues, it is important that we do our best to get our bodies into a sense of rhythm and balance. By creating a balanced internal environment, we are allowing our hormones to properly function. Furthermore, this balance aids in our mental function & well-being. Here are some tips that allow your body to achieve balance and contribute to your body & mind’s ability to distinguish between emotional and physical “hunger.”

#1 Move your body 

Mindfully moving your body in a way that feels therapeutic and liberating to you is ideal. When you move in a way that makes your mind and your body feel good you allow your body to produce feel-good endorphins, as well as an uptake in your dopamine & serotonin levels (also feel-good brain chemicals). It is important to let go of exercise as a way to burn off calories if you are going to experience the full scope of mental & physical benefits. Additionally, exercise aids in regulating the hormones that are responsible for the sensations of hunger & fullness.

#2 Make a Pre-Sleep Routine

When we don’t get a proper amount of sleep, or our sleep schedule is extremely inconsistent, our hormones can become unbalanced. Some of the hormones that are affected by our sleep are our leptin & ghrelin. Leptin is the hormone that plays a role in our “fullness” cues, and ghrelin is the hormone that plays a role in our “hunger” cues. When our sleep is off, the levels of these hormones are affected. Thus, you are not able to trust your body’s signals as fully as you can when you are well-rested. 

#3 Cut Back On or Quit Alcohol 

We are all experiencing some extreme anxiety & uncertainty during this pandemic, and it could feel easy to get your mind off things by pouring some wine or tequila shots (no judgment!). However, alcohol impacts your appetite on multiple levels. It impacts our leptin levels (similarly to lack of sleep) and inhibits our ability to receive accurate hunger & fullness cues from our bodies. Mentally, alcohol can be used to suppress the stress or boredom we feel yet finding healthier ways to do this is optimal for regulating our physical & emotional appetite. However, there is no problem in unwinding with a drink or two, just do your best to set yourself a limit and to make sure you are not using it as a way to cope, but rather as a way to celebrate life.

#4 Cut Back on Social Media

Trust me, throughout this quarantine I have been using my fair share of memes to laugh off some of the anxiety and feel more connected to others. However, many people have opinions on what is the “best” or “proper” way to behave or act during this quarantine, and when we are not living up to Bethany getting  her “summer abs” or Timmy “finalizing his business plan that he finally has time for”, it can make us feel as though we are not doing enough with our time, resulting in a blow to our self-esteem. Lack of self-esteem and emotional distress can contribute to an increase in appetite because your emotional needs are not being met. So, it is important to tune into yourself and ask what you are in need of right now, and that could be as simple as just getting through the day! 

#5 Figure Out Ways To Have Fun 

Boredom can easily lead us toward the fridge or pantry. Yet when we are bored, it is not that we are physically hungry but that we are in need of mental stimulation, And food is an easy way to get a boost of serotonin. So next time you’re feeling bored, or ready to go fetch another snack, tune in with your body: when was the last time you ate? Do I have a lack of energy because I haven’t eaten enough? Does my stomach feel empty? Consider these before eating. If you just ate, have energy, and your stomach feels full, you likely are in need of some entertainment or creative inspiration. Possibly call up a friend, go for a walk, search for some new music, draw or paint, etc. This way you can address what you are really in need of, instead of using food to cover it up and leave you still feeling unsatisfied. 

Original Illustration by Gina Escandon for Her Campus Media
I hope you can implement some of these tips into your own life in order to, hopefully, make this quarantine experience a little more bearable and manageable. Remember to practice self-compassion and that no matter what, you are doing just fine! 

Hey there! :) I'm Ava (B.A. Communication + Psychology from UC Davis). I am a writer, intuitive eating activist and have a strong passion for body acceptance and self-love. I believe in utilizing research to share the message on what it TRULY means to be happy and healthy!
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