What Kind of Hungry Are You?


Repeat after me, “Ice Cream (or food/drink of your choice) is NOT the miracle cure for (insert current life problem here).”  Come on- say it with me, “Ice cream is NOT the miracle cure for a bad day.” Okay, now let’s try this one, “I do not need to eat Breakfast at 7am, lunch at 12pm and dinner at 6pm if I’m not hungry at those times.” And one more for good measure, “If (insert spouse/friend/etc. name here) is eating pizza, I do not need to eat pizza too.” Now, how do you feel about the things you just said? What’s going on between those ears of yours? (I understand that some of you may not often experience ‘action’ in that region – but now would be a good time to go ahead and put on the old thinking cap.)

I want you to think about everything you ate yesterday. And I mean EVERY SINGLE TIME you had something in your mouth that you chewed and/or swallowed (get your heads out of the gutter). I’m not just talking about the food that you put on your plate but also those two bites of your child’s breakfast, that mindless munching while you were making dinner, and that piece of chocolate from your co-workers candy dish – no ‘convenient amnesia’ here. BE HONEST! Now, for each time that you ate something, WHY did you eat it? Were you hungry? Bored? Was it a clock-based decision? Or did you just do it because everyone else was doing it or because it was just there?

I’d be willing to bet that at least 50% of the time you ate or drank something yesterday, you weren’t PHYSICALLY hungry. I know, you’re all – “Uh, yes I was hungry…” Okay, fair.  I can’t actually KNOW what you were feeling, BUT I’m guessing in most of the situations when you ‘thought’ you were hungry if your choice had been celery instead of chocolate or tofu instead of steak; that hunger would’ve got up and walked right on out the door. Am I right??

Okay, so if you’re not truly experiencing a physiological NEED for food, but still feel hungry – the question is – What kind of ‘hungry’ are you? Yeah, mind blown, right? There is more than one kind of hungry and understanding the differences between the types is kind of a big deal. So let’s break these bad boys down.

Physical Hunger:

This one is like Coke – “It’s The Real Thing.” (Okay, bad comparison – but just go with it.) When you’re physically hungry your body truly needs food. Your stomach is growling, your blood sugar is tanking, you have a hard time concentrating and damn-it, a stalk or two of celery is sounding pretty tasty. (I’m talking about PLAIN celery – not a vessel for almond butter – don’t even try to pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about…)  Yep, physical hunger is your body’s way of telling you it needs nutrients and energy. If this is what you’re feeling- EAT!!!

Nutritional Hunger: (The “I’m hungry all the time” Hunger)

No, this is NOT the same as physical hunger- so don’t go getting the two confused. Think about the times when you eat (or used to eat) a less then optimal diet (enter Taco Bell, Cheetos, Chips Ahoy, Fruit Loops, etc.). You’d eat, feel ‘full’ and then like 15-60 minutes later – HOLY HUNGRY – It’s the “Chinese Food Phenomenon”. Sadly, a good portion of the food that we eat (or used to eat) is far from nutrient dense (sorry guys, there isn’t a lick of fruit in those tasty colorful Loops), and our body NEEDS nutrients. If the foods you’re eating are processed, refined, sugar and carb laden shit sandwiches then your body’s need for real nutrition will never be satisfied. It’s a vicious cycle – eat cruddy food – don’t get the nutrients your body needs – don’t feel satisfied – eat more cruddy food and so on… This folks is how obesity has become an epidemic.

Hormonal Hunger: (Ladies, you know what I’m talking about…)

Chocolate, brownies, cake, chips… You know that feeling you get after you eat a meal – the one where you think you’re still a little “hungry” and you just need something sweet? Yeah, that one.  I’m guessing you know it well and for some of us there may be ‘times of the month’ when it’s a little more prevalent than we would like. It’s those mid-afternoon cravings, that ‘drive for dessert’ – even when you know darn well you shouldn’t still be hungry. These cravings are often ‘fed’ by caving to the sugar/carb demons – those bad boys mess with our brain chemicals and hormones. The good news is, the longer you resist the urge to cave to the cravings the fewer and farther between they’ll be. Feed your body good food and your hormones will be much better behaved!

Emotional Hunger

Are you sad, lonely, stressed, tired, grumpy, feeling ‘empty’? Let’s go back to the first line of this miniature novel; – REPEAT AFTER ME, “Ice Cream (or food of your choice) is not the miracle cure for (insert problem here).” We live in a culture that turns to food to fix EVERYTHING. Our lives revolve around eating. Food is everywhere and food is something that many of us associate with happiness and/or comfort – so it totally makes sense that we eat when we’re tired, bored, sad, angry, stressed, lonely… Instead of dealing with the deeper issues we run to ‘instant gratification’ because we want to feel better. And it works – for a VERY short time. Yeah, the ice cream tastes great- but is it actually fixing anything and how are you going to feel when it’s gone? Believe it or not food will not mend a broken heart, make your sadness stop, or solve your problems. In fact, we often end up feeling even worse after we self-medicate with sugar and junk foods. Food is not a cure, it may be a Band-Aid but it’s one of those really cheap ones that you have to replace every15 minutes. If chocolate could solve the world’s problems it would be a better place, but until then deal with the reasons you want to eat and life will be much sweeter.

Hunger By Association

So, you’re at a restaurant with a group of friends having dinner. You all had a great meal – steak, bacon-wrapped asparagus and roasted sweet potatoes. You’re completely satisfied – that is until – everyone else starts ordering dessert. Suddenly, the food in your stomach miraculously rearranged itself and made room for a slice of chocolate cake. Yep, you’re definitely hungry again – but only for dessert – celery need not apply…  How and why does that happen? We might be completely satisfied – full, even – but when we see someone else eating something desirable we find ourselves hungry for some of the good stuff too. It’s a classic case of hunger by association. We ‘think’ we’re hungry and we justify eating something because the people that we’re with are eating it. It’s like peer pressure with no application of the actual ‘pressure’ needed.

Practical Hunger

Our lives are busy, right? We are constantly going from one meeting, practice, or event to another and lots of times our schedule and eating just don’t jive. How many times have you been in a situation like this – You get off work at 4 pm and you’re headed to the gym.  You’re not hungry but you eat something ‘just in case’. Or maybe you’ve got an appointment at 11:30 am and you’re not sure how long it’s going to take, so even though it’s only 10:30 and you just ate breakfast two hours ago, you have lunch – just to cover yourself. I think it’s safe to say we’ve all done this on several occasions (like at least twice a week…). We eat when we aren’t hungry to prevent ourselves from –wait for it – getting hungry!  For some reason being truly, physically hungry (see above for the definition) is not something we’re very comfortable with. I promise you though – you can go a lot longer without food then you think (like DAYS, people) and really, physical hunger is a good thing sometimes.

Taste Hunger

Two words – dessert table. What kind of picture do you have in your mind right now? Is it an EPIC collection of all things chocolate, caramel, cheesecake and ice cream? Is your mouth watering just thinking about it? How many times have you been at a party, someone’s home or a restaurant buffet where there are so many things that look amazingly delicious and regardless of how long it’s been since you’ve eaten – you’ve definitely got some serious tasting to do. It’s another situation where we eat because the food is there – not necessarily because we need or even want it.  It looks good and it’s staring at you, begging you to take a bite (really it’s not, but you’ve been there – you know what I’m talking about). How can you resist?

Habit or Learned Hunger: (Eating by the clock)

Breakfast at 7am, lunch at 12pm and dinner at 6pm – you can set your watch by it. Or maybe you’re a member of the “if I don’t eat every two hours my muscles are going to shrivel up and my metabolism is going to wind up in the toilet” camp. And does going to the movies or watching TV without a snack just feel wrong? Hunger and more exactly, when we should be hungry’ is learned. We’re conditioned from a very young age (like toddlerdom) to eat at certain times. Think for a minute how babies operate. They’re on their own clock – they truly do eat when they’re PHYSICALLY hungry (hence the 2am feedings) and stop when they’re satisfied. It’s not until our parents start making us eat breakfast when we get up, lunch at noon, and dinner at six that we start becoming ‘hungry’ at those times. And we also start to make subconscious associations between eating and certain activities – snacks when watching TV, or mid-afternoon, pizza on Friday night, etc. We can train our bodies to become hungry on demand and we totally tune out our true hunger cues. It’s not natural.

Try sitting down at the end of the day and writing down everything you ate (yes, even those potato chip crumbs you found between the couch cushions) and then determine what kind of hunger it was. Make it your goal to really tune into your natural hunger/fullness cues – listen to your body and its physical needs. If you’re physically hungry for lunch at 10 am – EAT, don’t ignore it by waiting until noon because that’s lunch time. Or if you’re not physically hungry for lunch at ‘lunchtime’ – wait and eat when you are hungry.

Your body is pretty damn smart. It knows what it needs and when it needs it. We get into trouble when we try to take control. It’s time to stop playing these “Hunger Games”.

What kind of Hungry are you?

Categories: General, Paleo Diet Basics, Paleo/Low Carb, Uncategorized, Weight Loss


Robb Wolf’s 30 Day Paleo Transformation

Have you heard about the Paleo diet and were curious about how to get started? Or maybe you’ve been trying Paleo for a while but have questions or aren’t sure what the right exercise program is for you? Or maybe you just want a 30-day meal plan and shopping list to make things easier? Then Robb Wolf’s 30 Day Paleo Transformation is for you.


  1. Beth says

    Great article, Amy!! I can relate to almost all of those types of hunger. Luckily I haven’t eaten by the clock in more years than I can remember. I love the idea of telling yourself, “This food (or more often in my case, alcoholic beverage!) is not the miracle cure for “insert problem here”. I will definitely be using that line in the future!
    It is crazy how you can be so completely satisfied after a good meal, yet somehow end up having room for dessert. That’s definitely due to hyperpalatability!
    And damn those dessert buffet tables! I’ve found it best to just not look directly at them and then pretend they don’t exist. :)

  2. Courtney says

    Annnnd once again, you’ve written a post that kicked me in the butt. I love seeing the types of hunger laid out like this- awesome stuff!!!! I’m going to use the suggestion of tracking when I eat and what kind of hunger it was. I think I’m a “because it’s time to” and “just in case” eater.

  3. Isabel says

    Question: I follow an IF plan – eating two meals a day. I have seldom if ever experienced what you might call ‘real hunger’ – no stomach growling, etc. I can go from being fine one minute to – OMG I have to eat NOW. I usually eat by the clock – first meal of the day 12:30/1pm, dinner 6pm – for convenience for my family. No more food til next day. However, some days, like today, I (think I) want to eat. My stomach hurts a little. I haven’t eaten since 6pm last night. But I don’t know what to eat. Silly, eh? I think of eggs and want to gag. Yogurt, well, possibly but difficult to find full fat yogurt and I restrict carbs so yogurt isn’t my ‘go to’ Cottage cheese and fruit – well, again, maybe – but higher in carbs. It’s funny (ironic not ha ha) to be ‘hungry’ and yet finicky about I would eat. I could definitely do bread/bagel but I don’t eat grains. So the question is, I guess – “how do I know when I’m truly hungry when I don’t get the growling tummy hunger signals” I can easily go 18 hours without thinking about food. I do use coconut oil in the morning, sometimes in coffee, sometimes on the spoon and that I am sure helps keep the hunger at bay. I am a female, 57, 190 (ish) pounds, losing weight, having lost 60 already. Thanks for any input you can give. I don’t follow Paleo but have been thinking about it, a lot.

    • Amy Kubal says

      Try following paleo and be mindful of how you feel at different points of the day. How do you feel at 8 hours of fasting as compared to 12 or 16 hours? Does food taste good? Maybe try not having the coconut oil one morning and see how that feels. The hunger ‘feeling’ can be different for everyone. Also, just like your mind can tell you that your hungry, it can also tell you that you’re not even when you are. Don’t over think things. Just really listen to the messages that your body is sending you – not the messages that your mind is creating.

  4. lenny says

    I notice lots of people tend to make mention of this “nutritional hunger”, but I’ve never seen a citation for its presence under a scientific setting. Got anything to back that statement up a bit more?

  5. Todd says

    I recently read some interesting literature talking about eating “only” when truly hungry (stomach growling, blood sugar crashing, and just before passing out from hypoglycemia)and it mentioned that if this was followed, a person would reach their ideal body weight. Sounds logical. My question is, Why does this logical form of eating not slow down our metabolism (as opposed to under eating)? Is it because we are still taking in enough calories when we do eat, even if it is only 1 time a day some days?

  6. michelle says

    I like to think I am pretty good at eating when I’m hungry only. My problem is I’m only “hungry” a couple times a day. Usually lunch and dinner (around 9 or 10pm). I have a day job, and go to the gym in the evenings. I have done some research on how much I should eat (around 2100 cals a day) and I’m pretty sure I get no where near that much from my 2 or 3 meals a day. So I tried a very clean mostly paleo food plan that had me eating practically non stop all day long, and I only lasted 3 days because I felt so sick from eating so much. Is it possible to get enough of your calories / nutrients from listening to your real hunger clues (ie only eating a couple times a day)? Or do I need to ramp up the amount of food I eat gradually so its not a huge change? I’m definitely curious because I think I could benefit from additional calories, but I hate forcing myself to eat.

    • Amy Kubal says

      Start with 3 meals a day and see how you feel. Try listening to your body’s signals and if it says eat twice a day, go with it for a while. See how you feel and how your body responds. That’s the best way to figure out what’s right for you!

  7. thor says

    Two weeks in and I can clearly distinguish between the “nutritional hunger” (I was calling it “craving”) versus “physical hunger”. Two weeks ago responding to nutritional hunger prevented me from every getting to the physical.

  8. Lydia says

    This was THE email I needed today. I’m an emotional, hormonal, nutritional,taste & eating by association wreck right now. My husband isn’t supportive of the paleo lifestyle & of course it’s darn near impossible to get my kids to jump on the bandwagon. I did really great by myself for almost 6 months and then Christmas hit & that huge bucket of Walker’s Shortbread Cookies showed up at Costco like they do every year & I caved. It was all downhill from there. I lost almost 35lbs before I bought those stupid cookies and I’m having a really hard time picking myself back up & moving on with my life! Any suggestions?

    • Amy Kubal says

      Today is a NEW DAY!! Make a fresh start! Your next meal is your next opportunity to eat well. Don’t enable your husband and kids – if they want something that you don’t eat – they need to buy it themselves. Provide good foods for all of you! You can do this!

  9. Janie says

    Hmmmm.. Insightful article, and I agree with the majority of it… However, what about people with blood sugar issues or adrenal fatigue?

    I know I need food when:
    1. I feel physically tired and just sloooow, then realize I haven’t eaten in 6+ hours. I usually feel 100% better after eating a hearty paleo meal. Snacks don’t really alleviate it, I need an actual full, balanced meal and my only critiera is that it’s paleo.

    2. When ANYTHING look appetizing. I wouldn’t go with “celery” because I barely consider that a food… Basically fiber and water, and nothing of sustenence.. But when I can’t wait to dig into some dry, bland, un-seasoned, un-marinated, cold chicken breast, I know I need some fuel.

    3. I start feeling physically sick, spacey, or lightheaded. The reason why I don’t agree with all these points is because some people DO experience some pretty crappy symptoms when they get hungry, even if they “have their blood sugar under control” and have been eating low-ish carb paleo for years. And it’s just not worth it. For example, I might work from 8-6 with a one-hour lunch break… If I’m not thaat hungry by lunch break, I’m still damn well going to eat anyway because I know I won’t get a chance until I get home at 630 or 7pm after being on my feet all day. I think fasting can be a useful tool for some people, but for others I think it can be pretty awful and giving yourself some fuel (even if you’re not crazy hungry yet) is a valuable idea.

    I also think “hangry” is a different beast than say, being sad and then eating (emotional hunger). Because it’s not like you’re angry and then you want to eat. You’re physically hungry FIRST, and then you GET angry because your system is physically in need and your stress hormones are elevated telling you “FEED ME” and it makes you anxious and cranky. That’s my take on it anyway. I’m just more short when I’m hungry. And I’ve done several fasts between 12-24 hours. And I ALWAYS get wonky symptoms unless I’m literally vegging out doing absolutely nothing. I would LOVE to be able to fast, but I just generally feel better when I make sure I have fuel periodically throughout the day (even if I’m not super hungry), to avoid tired/sick/poopy feelings. That just me?

    • RG says

      I TOTALLY agree with your definition of ‘Hangry’!!! That is TOTALLY ME when I’ve had to go too long in between fueling myself! I don’t agree with categorizing it under ’emotional hungry’ for the same reasons.. you’re not eating because you’re angry… you’re angry because you NEED fuel and your body is trying to convey that message to you. Good call Janie!

  10. kfiscella says

    This blog post is so obvious but definitely something I needed to hear from someone else. I’ve been experimenting with a ketogenic diet for moderate weight loss and mood control and my actual “hunger” has practically disappeared. I’m becoming more cognizant of my own “habitual” and “comfort” eating because I find myself putting food in my mouth when I’m really not hungry! I’ve started skipping lunch when I don’t feel hungry and stop eating at dinnertime when I start to feel full. This approach has helped me feel like I am respecting my body and it’s own wisdom re: satiety and hunger signals.

    Thanks a lot, Robb, for reminding us in a clear and well-organized blog post about the myriad ways we consume food–for better or for worse.

    • kfiscella says

      Ahgh!! I just realized Amy wrote this post! I’m so sorry!!!

      Please delete my first post. Thank you, AMy!

  11. says

    Great article… I definitely do the practical hunger one – it is rare that I feel hungry first thing in the morning, but I will eat something before heading off to work because I know I won’t be taking a lunch break (it is rare that I stop for lunch) and I will be very hungry before I get home.
    I am a massage therapist, so there is no way I can stop and grab a quick bite to eat unless I am between clients. And I don’t think it looks good if your therapist’s stomach is growling for the duration of the massage.
    I guess instead of eating when I am not hungry I ought to stash a few snacks in my bag that I can grab between clients….

  12. Alyne says

    Amy, Great article! I’m doing a Whole 30 right now. I thought I read in It Starts with Food that you should eat breakfast even if not hungry (something about re-setting leptin) and eating 3 meals a day. What if I am not hungry for a meal? Do you think it is OK to skip so long as I eat a full meal (meat, veg, fat) when/if I get hungry?

  13. says

    Great article, I myself am dealing with hormonal and emotional hunger. So far no light at the end of the tunnel… I’m planning to ditch the pill to balance my hormones, but the emotional hunger… I have no idea how to deal with that…

  14. Cindy says

    I work at a weight loss clinic where I sneak as much of the Whole 9, paleo, primal, whole food gospel into coaching my clients as I can. This is yet another article I’ll be printing out and having many of my crew read.

  15. Jordan says

    My problem is that I never feel hungry. I end up getting angry, foggy headed, and weak. But even then I don’t feel hungry and it is hard to make myself eat. Any suggestions would be great!

  16. says

    I don’t think I actually get physically hungry that often. I tend to just snack based on cravings pretty frequently throughout the day. I know it’s probably nutritional hunger, but sometimes there’s just simply not enough time to prepare healthier snacks.

  17. Patrick says

    Ok, so would the physical hunger mean needing calories? I don’t think celery would do much there.
    I would assume that I eat caloric food at least once a day because I need calories, though I could fast for a day, and be hungry, but still have enough energy.
    I’m confused as to if the need for calories and the need for micro-nutrients have been lumped together here.

    • Amy Kubal says

      Patrick, You’re over thinking this. If you’re physiologically hungry – eat. If you’re bored, stressed, eating because it’s time, etc. and aren’t physically hungry then you may want to evaluate your ‘true’ hunger.

  18. Tomka says

    Hi Amy,
    Your article is an insightful way of tuning into our body. Healthy eating has always been a way of life for me and my family; growing up with European parents, good natural food was always part of our lifestyle and I have continued that with my own children. I grew up eating raw garlic and tomatoes like apples.
    We still eat icecream, chocolate and pizza if and when we feel like it but in moderation and you are correct; if you fuel your body with healthy food it will naturally crave less food and less carbs and sugars.
    Can I suggest what has really worked for me is ensuring my physical body and digestive system is at its peak. Consulting a naturopath, herbal medicine or aligning our bodies through a chiropractor all ensure the healthy food we put in our bodies is actually absorbed. Once mine and my children’s bodies were functioning correctly, the nutrients we put in keep us at our physical peak!

  19. says

    We all can of course attest to physical hungry! I can really tell if I don’t eat a nutritional, healthy breakfast at home before I go to work, the physical hunger kicks in around 10am. Now this isnt’ really a bad thing but it is if I didn’t bring any healthy snacks along (that box of jelly-filled doughnuts starts to look REALLY good)! I can’t stop recommend eating a healthy breakfast! AND right now I am physically hungry, just got that workout in! :)

  20. Julie Tann says

    I’m really glad I’ve found this as I’ve really been struggling lately with eating 3 meals a day & getting stressed because I can’t always manage them all.

    I have breakfast about 7.30, a biscuit about 10.30 & then a small snack (a small slice of toast & a couple of sweets) & if I’m hungry later I’ll have my tea/dinner about 6.00.

    This is often the problem tho because sometimes after I’ve often the toast I don’t want anything in the evenings. But because of this I often comfort eat, even tho I’m not hungry.

    I’m thinking of having my main meal at lunch time as I’m usually more hungry then.

    I really wish I could stop this comfort eating. I guess in a way it’s a bit like bulimia, but not being sick.

    After reading some of the comments on here I know now that’s it’s ok to just have 2 meals a day.

    Cheerio from the UK.

  21. Alex says

    Hello Amy
    I’m from Poland so sorry for my english if I’ll make some mistakes…
    I have a question…I’m pregnant and I know that I need about 1700 calories per day.I’m trying to eat paleo but not always succeed (sometimes I just MUST to eat an icecream or something like that;) but not to often).
    Getting to the point,should I eat something between my main meals to refill/complete my calories requisition(?)? I do eat for example walnuts,cashews,dried fruits or fresh fruits even when I’m not physically hungry.Am I right? Thank you for answer.

  22. Marielle says

    Definitely written by a man!!!
    How can you say ice cream doesn’t solve all the problems!!! How can you say Chocolate doesn’t bring world peace!!!

    I do have one serious comment though, I’m always really really hungry in the middle of the night. It’s so bad that it often keeps me from sleeping… but seriously, cooking a whole meal at 3am????

  23. says

    Awesome article! Makes me stop and think now before I eat. There’s so much info out there about eating right and it can get confusing; I like how you put it, “your body is pretty damn smart.”

  24. Jenny says

    Great post. I’ve been struggling to differentiate between various types of “hunger” for the past year or so. I second Todd’s question above regarding the potential metabolic shift resulting from eating only when hungry. Can you elaborate on whether sparse eating, when it is the result of attending to your true hunger, slows down metabolism? This has been weighing on my mind as of late.

    Thank you, Amy!

  25. says

    Great article Amy! I’m sending it to a few friends and clients now. What’s your best strategy for overcoming Taste Hunger and Hunger by Association? We’re quickly entering the season of weekend parties. I’ve been having a lot of conversations about goal awareness and damage mitigation. I dont know why anyone wants to drop pounds during the holidays but maaan they do. I’m just like bring on the buffet – I did my time this year.

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