Physical Hunger And Cravings

Good morning to you :)

What a (mostly) fun weekend I had–it included extra sleep (finally!), a spin class, teaching BodyPUMP, the Hunger Games movie (SO good!), Zumba choreo time, reading, some crying, and hanging with some family. It was just (majorly) missing my husband :( I get to see him in 8 days and counting…..

{We’re moving to another state so he can go back to grad school and get in-state tuition–he’s already there. Excited and bummed all at the same time to be moving!}

How was your weekend?


Weekends often include more oft-eating options, more indulgent foods, and more opportunities to blow your goals and mess with your ‘normal’ eating habits. This can be frustrating, annoying, and really devastating to those who struggle with disordered eating habits (and if you can’t quite figure out how to end it, email me–I offer one-on-one coaching sessions).

Those weekend eating habits can, long term, place you in a not-so fun spot.

However, once the difference between physical hunger and cravings is discovered, weekends, all of a sudden, become no big thing (as they usually are for people who tend to be conscious of eating habits, disordered eating practicies, and/or healing from an eating disorder), and every eating decision gets easier and easier from there too.

Physical Hunger

Our bodies need the energy from food to function, move, exercise, live, and breathe. If we do not eat, we die. If we eat too much, we have a higher risk of dying early or having diseases for a long time that might kill us eventually.

So how do we reconcile the inbetween?!

Our bodies were created perfectly, and as such, there is a perfect system in place. When our bodies need food (i.e. the energy stores -mainly from carbohydrates-are either almost depleted or will be depleted), signals are sent from the stomach to the brain telling you food is needed. The stomach also grumbles when the stomach is totally empty (the contractions cause this), and can remind you that you need to eat.

This is true physical hunger. When ignored for a little bit, you will not die–the body has other systems in place (hello fat storage) that will kick in. However, when ignored for a long time, and you don’t feed that body at all, you’ll essentially starve yourself and would die if continued.


We are also emotional beings. Check this : 70% of our decisions are made emotionally and only 30% are made rationally! (I think mine is more like 85 and 15. Hah).

Anyways, because of our emotions, desires, and external influences (ever smelled a bakery when you’re not even hungry, and all of a sudden you’re in need of a loaf of French bread?!), the emotional side of our brain can be influenced as well.

It’s not called ‘comfort food’ for nothing 😉

Food brings with it memories, experiences, family moments, parties, joys, traditions, and rewards. When we’re in a spot where our emotions need reinforcement, validation, or even comfort, we usually reach for that ‘something.’ Unfortunately (and sometimes fortunately) that ‘something’ is usually food.

Cravings can hit us in the strangest places, the most common of places (hello parents’ pantry!), and the most decadent and celebratory of places.

That is why it is SO vital to be able to tell the difference!

Cravings in of themselves are not bad. Not at all. It is when we act on them consistently when we’re not physically hungry that it turns into something ugly.

I could crave fro yo at 11 a.m. (umm, this happens often), and if I were to act on that every few days even when not hungry, I might start to associate that time with that certain food, and then all of a sudden I have forgotten to listen to my body and look for that physical hunger feeling.


Like I said, cravings are not inherently bad, and sometimes they can and should be indulged upon! (I had fro yo last weekend because I wanted it, and was not necessarily hungry.)

It is just the act of consistently giving into those non-physical hunger cues (i.e. cravings -all types) that sets us down a path of not listening to our bodies anymore. 

How To Tell Differences Between Physical Hunger and Cravings

So how do you tell those differences between physical hunger and cravings so you can better handle your eating?

  • When you’re about to grab food, ask yourself “Am I hungry enough to eat an apple? Or chomp on celery?” If not, then you’re probably not physically hungry.
  • Did that certain food you seriously need right now come into your head via an external cue (bakery whiff, picture on a blog, boredom), or from an internal cue (tummy grumblings, lightheadedness)? If external, it’s most likely a craving-vice versa for internal.
  • Were you extra tired, cranky, stressed, or worried when you wanted to grab that ice cream? Or was your body really hungry at that time? If it wasn’t truly hungry, that desire for ice cream came as a craving, and not from physical hunger.
  • Do you have to eat at a certain time? Or must you have seconds on that buffet? If neither is true, you probably were craving something else other than food (usually you’re stressed, overly excited, worried, emotional, or not listening to your body).

{if we lack sleep, we usually mistake cravings for physical hunger….}

What YOU can do:

  • Instead of grabbing food when you’re happy, mad, excited, or worried, take a walk, pick up a DIY project, or call a friend.
  • Wait 15 minutes-go do something else- if you feel like you need ice cream, pretzels, pizza, or any really unhealthy treat. If you still want it after 15 minutes, you’re hungry. If not, it was just a craving.
  • Plate any snack, meal, or ‘grab’ from the pantry. This will remind you to eat with your stomach and not just your eyes 😉
  • If it helps, when you feel a craving for something that you’re not really hungry for, brush your teeth or chew some gum. When you’re physically hungry again, go for it! Remember, it’s all about listening up to that {smart} body of yours!

Kiddos eat when they’re hungry, stop when they’re full, and eat chips, candy, and pizza as extras when they feel like it, but never in abundance (unless it’s forced upon).

When we ‘re-train’ our minds and bodies to act like that, we in essence hook into listening to our bodies and can easily recognize physical hunger from pure cravings.

It’s taken me years to re-trace my steps (because of an eating disorder and then disordered eating habits), but being healed and completely free of that all, I can now say, it is a very beautiful thing to be able to say, “NO” I am not truly hungry so I’m not going to eat that chocolate–but also to be able to enjoy a good craving once in awhile, when it hits 😉

{feed me! I am crazy when waiting in the car without food when I am hungry!}

Food is fuel. No foods are bad. Eat healthy foods often. And every delicious bite of fro yo should be enjoyed on occasion. There should never be guilt involved with eating. And if there is, we gotta chat :)

The end.


Oh wait–last but not least, Happy Birthday to the most amazing mother in the world! She is truly a saint, and angel, and an incredible mom. She is someone whom I admire, love, and hope to end up being at least a little bit like :)

Happy Birthday Mommy!!

What is hard for YOU in telling the difference between physical hunger and cravings?? What do YOU do to ward off a craving when YOU know you’re not really hungry?? Anyone else have a great mom??

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  1. Happy birthday to your amazing mom!!!! Parents pantry and fridge is always a tough one for me… Anytime there is food around that we don’t keep in our house (aka: crap), I feel the need to eat it. Thinking about physical hunger vs cravings is a good idea… thanks, as always, for this great info! :)

    • I know, it’s like if it’s there it must get in my tummy right?! WRONG 😉 Hah. It took me a loooooonnng time to reconcile all that!

  2. caroline says:

    When I work night shifts I get a little out of whack and confuse my physical hunger with cravings. Usually I am just thirsty and tired and then confuse that with hunger. Really appreciate your ideas! Thanks!

  3. Great post! And happy birthday to your mom!
    I’ve been majorly trying to separate physical hunger vs. cravings and focus on why, when and what I’m eating for a while now (aka intuitive eating, right?). It’s really amazing sometimes when I am able to eat just what my body needs- and not so much what my mind wants. I’m learning to let my body make my decisions and really try to focus on stopping when I’m full, and not munching on things mindlessly. Planning and tracking things really help for me (and tracking only works when you’re 100% honest!!)

  4. aww you were such a beautiful bride!! happy birthday to your mom!
    i have a hard time keeping my large sweet tooth in check sometimes, but i find that if i have one small sweet(er) snack each day, i can usually keep my cravings under control pretty well.

  5. happy birthday to your mom!! yay :)

    I also got my spinning on this much fun. Im one of those people that like to eat just cause im bored (and im an emotional eater) so I just like to make sure that I eat throughout the day to ensure i’m not letting myself get too hungry..ever. thats when i get into trouble. i’ve also learned to let myself have a little bit of what i’m craving now and then because it keeps me in a healthy mindset.

    have a great monday!

  6. Happy Birthday to your momma!

    My cravings show their ugly face after dinner, while I’m watching TV. I have to sometimes say out loud “you just ate supper!” Hahahaha! But I’ve gotten pretty good at closing the kitchen after dinner – no more grabbing something to eat during commercial breaks!

    Have a wonderful Monday!

  7. Happy Birthday to your mom! Aren’t moms just wonderful? I couldn’t survive without mine!

    For me, I just eat emotionally when I am stressed at work. I am a first year attorney and when I get a stressful assignment and particularly when I am working late at night, I just want something crunchy to eat. So, I will munch on nuts, or granola and I am not even hungry. In fact, after I do it I am really full and don’t even feel well from it, but it’s just a nervous habit!

    • Oh wow–that DOES sound stressful!! Yep, mindful eating is definitely important in situations like that! But of course, if you really are hungry, snack on those almonds–so good for us :)

  8. Great post! I am a muncher during the weekends too! Sometimes I use “I just did a long run, I earned it” as an excuse. Other times, totally emotional. DARN IT!

  9. Happy Birthday to your mom! This post is definitely hitting home with me… Also, I’m dying to know where you’re moving!!!

  10. i like this post (and all of your posts, really) because i know i have trouble with food. disordered eating and emotional eating and all that. so it’s good to know when my stomach was making noises this morning, it was probably hungry because i didn’t eat a real meal yesterday! but seriously, thank you for writing stuff like this. it’s always good to do a gut check (haha) before diving into a bunch of unhealthy foods.

  11. Awesome post girl! I think my biggest challenge is that I always feel hungry haha and so when I have a craving, I’m usually hungry as well. I’ve gotten pretty good at satisfying my cravings intelligently though…and that’s what counts!

    • I know, for me that took awhile too. I am hungry often and eat a lot and often throughout the day, so it took some time to figure out when I was REALLY hungry and when it was just sort of hungry but mostly craving. Hah 😉 But I feel best when I eat often too!

  12. Happy Birthday Annette’s madre! Thanks for raising such a fabulous inspiration for the rest of us!

    What’s funny is I really don’t have cravings anymore, since I busted all my emotional disordered crap. I stick to a basic diet because of my ibs…cravings aren’t fun when they = pain!

    Do you know anything about the differences between food intolerances and allergies? I’ve been thinking of being tested but because of my ibs testing they’ve already done, I’m wondering if it’s a total waste of time…

    • Awwww thank you :) Will let her know!

      I know that an allergy is an immune response (with side effects) and is more serious than an intolerance. Usually an intolerance you can have the food, but it makes you sick. With an allergy, you need to avoid it altogether.

  13. OH MY GOSH I am a CRAZY PERSON when I am in a car and hungry…Jeff calls me Joe Pesci.

    This is such a great post Annette…

    Sometimes when I workout a lot and I don’t eat as much as I should I am hit with pure, unadulterated hunger. I never used to know what hunger was because I never let myself get there but now, I understand. That being said I try to fuel my body so I don’t hit that crazy hungry stage but I’ve not reached that perfect balance yet. Somedays I do though.

    PS very excited about the move! It’s a new phase of life. A new beginning. Soak it up honey.

  14. Ashleigh says:

    I just discovered your website today! I have decided to start training for a half marathon and I am also trying to change my eating habits for good! This is the second post I’ve read (the first was an elliptical workout) and I enjoyed both. I never thought about the difference between a craving and real hunger before, I am excited to try this out. I have a couple of questions and I was wondering if you could answer:
    Will only eating when you are truly hungry cause you to lose weight or just not to gain weight? (I would like to lose about 15 pounds)
    Will I experience more true hunger when marathon training?
    I am a student and I often find it hard to find time to exercise and plan healthy meals. Do you have any tips?
    Thanks so much and I look forward to reading more of your articles!

    • That is exciting that you are training for a half marathon!

      Eating when you are truly hungry is a way of showing your body that you trust it–and honor it. As is stopping when you feel satisfied. When we look to external cues to tell us those things (Calories, what other people are doing, diets, etc)., we learn to mistrust our hunger cues & the whole thing can really mess with our minds, and eventually our bodies.

      With marathon/long distance running, it seems to be the case that you feel hungrier later in the day on those longer runs, but if you fuel properly (so eating quality calories instead of lots of junk), you should be fine!

      With being busy it is all about priorities-so just choose what is important to you (training 3 days per week for example), and schedule it in! Make it an appt with yourself and you won’t forego it. Also, planning meals is similar-decide a few meals in advance that you’d like that week, shop for them, and then do some food prep in bulk one day–so cook up black beans, grill chicken, and chop up some veggies. I find that helpful!

      have a good day :)



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