Your Guide to Understand Hunger

Eating disorders are not just a maladaptive relationship with food or body; they are Bipsychosocial disorders where you deal with biological causes, psychological aspects, and social factors.
Dealing with our bodies or food could be a manifestation of how we see, think, and view ourselves. It could also be our internal and/or our external interaction with our world and with other people.

Accordingly, we need to learn more about the different types of hunger and how they are related to our personalities, our environment, our self-worth, self-esteem, and how we cope with day-to-day life.

The following guide will discuss every type, its signs, and how to cope properly.
This guide could help if you – or anyone you know – are suffering with their eating pattern:

1-The Malnourishment Hunger:
It is a physical hunger that you could experience if you are practicing any sort of restriction or if you don't eat specific food comparable to what your body needs.
Speaking of restriction – it can be:
-Physical restriction/Eating restraint: eating a small amount of food comparable to what your body needs.
-Mental restriction/Food Avoidance: Feeling guilty over eating a specific food or labeling food as "healthy" and "unhealthy".
- Time restriction: Eating at a specific time, (for example preventing yourself from eating after 7 p.m.).
-Social restriction: Avoidance of any gatherings that could hold the possibility of experiencing food, especially your fear food.

Avoidance of specific foods or food groups (No carb, no fat, no meat or poultry, no dairy, and/or no sweet).
Protein deficient or vitamin deficient.
Having a malnourished/starved brain. (Severe Anxiety – Irrational thinking – Altered body image)
Fear of gaining weight.
Fear of eating too much.

What to do:
 If you are – without any medical, ethical, or religious reasons – preventing yourself from eating specific food or don't eat what your body really needs, you have to allow yourself to eat these food even if it means experiencing shame and/or guilt.
You can slowly, and with others' help, incorporate this food into your daily meals. With time your body will get used to them and your feelings of shame or guilt gradually vanish.

2- Mental Hunger:
Mental hunger or brain hunger is a critical – and normal phase – during recovery from an eating disorder, disordered eating, or any dietary restriction. It simply means "thinking about food", "thinking about anything that leads to food", or "thinking about your fear food".
Eating disorders or any restriction put our bodies in an "energy deficit". We suffer from malnutrition and a lot of physical and psychological stress.
During this phase, our digestive system becomes slower because our minds are convinced that food is scarce and movement is inevitable.

Because our digestive system is smart, it sends a message to our brain that it needs more energy/food to achieve optimal function.
Our brain interprets that message into thoughts about food to push us to eat more and to make sure that food is available again.

Thinking about food:

Thinking about food can happen even if you just finished your meal. You may dwell on what to eat the next meal, build a sandwich in your head, or imagine that you are eating one of your fear foods.
You may also experience those thoughts in your dreams.

Questioning your hunger:
If you keep asking yourself whether you are hungry or not, you are certainly hungry and you are experiencing mental hunger.
The problem is that eating disorder – and for a very long time – has taught you not to trust your hunger cues, and also made your brain build a direct correlation between hunger and the reward system.

Obsessing with cooking books, food pictures, or binging on cooking shows:
Those who are suffering from eating disorders or food restrictions are constantly searching for permission to eat.
But because our minds feel that food is unavailable/scarce, we would seek a replacement for it.
 Cooking books, cooking shows, and food pictures are typical alternatives to real food. They are like an embodiment of what we need.

Thinking about exercise:
Excessive or obsessing with exercise is an obvious sign of a potential eating disorder, and it plays two leading roles:
Firstly: it is a method to earn food.
Secondly: it is a great way to burn off food.
So, thinking about exercise is a thought about food, permission to eat food, or a choice to purge food.

Wanting to be busy all the time:
Feeling of control is a subtle possible reason for developing an eating disorder. We want to be safe, perfect and empowered and cope with the fear of uncertainty.
We keep ourselves busy by planning meals and/or movements to feel that we control everything around us.

It is also said – and from a Darwinian/evolutionary perspective – when the pre-agrarian humans experienced a decrease in food resources (Famine, Starvation or restriction), they seek a better environment (Migration). And to migrate (An act of movement), they saved their energy by shutting down their hunger cues as an adaptive mechanism to that starvation.

According to Shan Guisinger, those who are suffering from eating disorders or food restrictions are obsessed with filling their days with duties, excessive movement, or responsibilities to deny their hunger and also ignore the need for food which is known as Adapted to Flee Famine.

Cooking for others and never sharing them:
Obsessing with cooking food for others is a manifestation of a desire to eat this food.
Eating disorders make us create strict rules towards what we SHOULD and SHOULDN'T eat which in turn leads to what is known as "safe food and fear food".
When we choose to cook our fear food and never eat it, it means that our minds are thinking about this food.

What to do:
Stop questioning your feelings:

You know that eating disorders are slimy and manipulative. When you begin to question your hunger, it means that YOU ARE HUNGRY. Trust your body and send a message to your brain that food is available and gaining weight is normal.

Eat what you crave:
Stop labeling food, and stop overanalyzing your choices. All food is good and nutritious.
 Labeling food is an example of intrusive thoughts and can shrink your perspective. What you crave is what you need. Eating food is meant to be an enjoyable experience, so stop listening to diet culture's messages, break this vicious cycle, and eat what you want.

Normalize Guilt:
After a prolonged period of living in your comfort zone where you only follow ED's rules, it is normal to feel guilty over breaking these rules. In fact guilt here is a sign of healing.
Validate your emotions, and treat yourself with compassion. You are not alone – guilt can be a useful feeling to begin to take responsibility for your recovery.
As time passes your body will rehabilitate, and your mind will learn that it is normal to eat what you want and that food is not a threat.

Get rid of the busyness mood:
when you find yourself obsessing with filling your day with duties and responsibilities, ask yourself:
"Am I really busy? Or is it just a way or a distraction to avoid food?"
Be honest and remember that although self-knowledge is hard, it helps you recognize your needs and respond to them.
There is no shame in wanting to eat more, and there is no shame in seeking rest and enjoying a meal.

3- The Pre-Menstrual hunger:
It happens when woman feels that her bodies needs more food before her period.

Extreme Hunger.
Having an appetite for more carbs or sweets.
Feeling guilty after eating.

What to do:
Women should know that this is a normal phase, and she has to accept and respect it. It is also important to tell her that it is okay to eat more heavily before the period and that her body will handle it.

4- The Shift Worker hunger:
It happens when we experience irregular work-hours that disrupt our natural cycle. You can consider it as an accidental restriction.

Skipping meals, especially breakfast.

What to do:
We have to schedule our meals, respect and respond to our hunger cues, eat frequently during the day, never skip breakfast and, more importantly, change our job if it becomes a burden on our bodies.

The following types of hunger will discuss the psychosocial factors that could affect our relationship with food; we will discover how anger, frustrations, happiness, and perfectionism could lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and body.
But before we dig in, we need to emphasize that using food as a comfort tool is normal so you don't have to feel guilty over it, and, more importantly, restricting your intake is not the answer.
 But at the same time, we need to learn more about how to feel our emotions so eating becomes an enjoyable experience, not a tool to fix us

5- Anxiety Hunger:
It happens when you use food to calm your nerves. You can be unsatisfied with your intake and claim to be hungry all the time even though you actually eat sufficient meals.
On the other hand, you can restrict your intake because you can't cope with anxiety or you think that you don't deserve a good meal.

Feeling hungry all the time.
Experiencing frustration, confusion, and losing abilities to solve problems.
Talking about what you "want" not what you "need".
Embracing perfectionism.
Lack of entitlement.
Experiencing stress and anxiety whether it is real or self-induced.
Negative self-talk.
Hardly making a decision.
Not accepting making mistakes.

What to do:
Since this hunger is a manifestation of suppressed emotions and underlying psychological factors, we need to learn how to regulate our emotions, practice mindful eating, learn to take care of ourselves, dig deeper to identify our needs, and stop depending on food as a crutch to solve our unresolved problems or our denied needs.

In addition to that we need to let go of the idea of comparing ourselves to others, put realistic standards for ourselves, learn new problem-solving mechanisms, cultivate our self-worth, set boundaries with our minds and with others around us, and try to be more assertive by expressing our wants and needs clearly and in a way that reflects respect to others.

6- Boredom Hunger:
It happens when someone can't think of what else to do except food.

Symptoms of Alexithymia.
The feeling of emptiness.

What to do:
Identifying the underlying unresolved issues and how to feel emotions, validate and express them.
Working more on cultivating self-worth and needs.


7- Celebratory Hunger:
It happens when food is used as a mechanism to enjoy an occasion.

The feeling of over-exciting in restaurants.
Obsessing with "wants" Not "Needs".
Lack of self-esteem.
Using food to reach small joy.

What to do:
Here we seek small joy from food and although this joy can be satisfied for a short time, we are not intrinsically happy.
We need to learn how to enhance our self-worth, prioritize our needs and focus on celebrate building healthy relationships with others.

8- Anger / rebellious Hunger:
It happens when we seek instant gratification by using food when we feel angry. Or when we feel that we are prevented from doing what we want.

Embracing passive- aggressive communication:
When someone expresses their frustration or anger and avoids responsibilities.
Approaching life from the victim position.

What to do:
We need to know why we are feeling angry and with whom. We also need to consider if our anger is real or dysfunctional.
We also need to identify whom we are rebellious against, embrace more mature mechanisms to express our needs, and learn how to take responsibilities.

9- Loneliness Hunger:
It happens when we use food as a comfort response to a devastating event we experience. We can also our restrict intake when we go through painful emotions.

Losing the ability to respond to a painful experience.
Treating food as a method to escape uncomfortable emotions.

What to do:
Since we are using food as a tool to deal with something heavy in our minds and souls. We need to identify and understand the subtle reasons behind our feeling of loneliness. We should ask for help when we find it hard to deal with grief after losing someone we love or after losing a relationship. 
We have to learn how to express our emotions and embrace helpful mechanisms to reach well-being.

10- The Giver Hunger:
This person is used to getting a small amount of food and denying his/her hunger.
Their hunger is a manifestation of their unheard needs.

Treating Food or feeding as an indulgence.
Dedicating themselves to others' needs and denying their own.
Never say "No".
They are emotionally drained.
Seeking approval from others.

What to do:
Givers are happy (on the surface), but (underneath) they are suffering from resentment.
They need to learn how to set boundaries, normalize saying "No", stop pleasing others, identify their needs and assertively express them.


Healing your relationship with food is hard and needs a lot of work and dedication. You have to remember that recovery is possible and it is an ongoing process. When you build a peaceful relationship with your body and your food, you are building a coherent relationship with yourself. Don't hesitate to ask for help, your mental health deserves your love and care.