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7 Types Of Hunger To Note, According To A Nutritional Therapy Expert

Lauryn Lax, OTD, NTP, CPT
Functional Medicine Specialist & Nutritionist By Lauryn Lax, OTD, NTP, CPT
Unrecognizable Woman Eating a Bowl of Cereal In Her Kitchen

Pop quiz: What does hunger feel like? How do you know you are hungry?

As a body love and food freedom expert who works with women and men who struggle with disordered eating, these two questions often stump my patients. So many people have a funky relationship with food, making it complicated to just "listen to their body" and practice intuitive eating when it comes to mealtime. 

Intuitive eating is essentially the art of eating when you are hungry, stopping when you are full, and figuring out what your body needs and wants—a burger, a salad, chocolate, an apple, sushi, rice, a big plate of vegetables, and so on. While it may seem like a challenging practice to many people, you were born with this skill: crying when you were hungry; turning your head away from your mom or your bottle when you were full.

Then fast-forward to Modern-Day Adulting 101, and it's as if that skill gets thrown out the window. Instead, we eat on schedules. We eat according to rules (like no more than 20 carbs today, or no more than 1,200 calories). We eat the same things every day because it's convenient.

Sure, you know what it feels like to be really hungry—like a growling stomach or feeling lightheaded. But what does it mean to detect what you are actually hungry for?

(Pin drop.)

This is where understanding, what I call, the "7 types of hunger" can come into play.

The 7 types of hunger & why they matter.

In my experience with nutritional therapy and health coaching, there are seven kinds of hunger—some are psychological, and others physical. If they're unsatisfied, ignored, or not given the right nourishment, we may try to satisfy them with food. 

These include hunger for:

  1. Physiological and Sensational Needs: stomach hunger, like a growling stomach; or other sensory cues—like mouth hunger from tasting a food, nose hunger from smelling a food, and eye hunger from seeing a food.
  2. Feeling in Control: a sense of security.
  3. Variety: freedom from boredom, more fun or change.
  4. Importance: wanting to feel noticed, important, and good enough.
  5. Connection & Love: feeling included, not isolated or lonely. Love, social, and spiritual connection.
  6. Growth: like we are going places, learning, doing something in the world, working toward something.
  7. Contribution: the need we have to make a difference or give back.

Your body and mind are constantly sending you signals about hunger throughout the day—and if any of these needs are not met, your default survival mode is to try to meet them in some way. In cases of physiological hunger, it makes sense for food to be the solution. But when we turn to food, diets, or cooking as a tangible way to fill psychological hungers, that's where things get a little less productive.

Let's consider this example: Why do you reach for ice cream, even when it doesn't make your body feel good? What do you like about it? It's creamy, soft, and sweet. Do you like it then because something in your life—like your job or your relationship—feels rough, hard, and bitter right now? This could be your hunger for connection and love at play.

In my experience, you can generally find answers with the seven types of hunger. Once you're able to identify which type of hunger is driving your decision-making, you can more accurately work with your body, not against it. 

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Identifying and working with your hunger.

Think of one habit right now that is not serving you—even on occasion. Restricting? Bingeing? Overtraining? Overanalyzing?

Oftentimes the reason this habit is present in your life is because it's trying to meet a hunger you have. For example, if life feels out of control, our need for certainty may lead to obsession over calories. If we are bored and wishing for variety in our job or relationship, we may seek that in a spicy Thai meal or pizza party. Feeling lonely and socially disconnected? Again, food or dieting habits may be an odd source of comfort.

Consider what psychological hungers you have tried to meet with food, dieting, or exercise. Might there be another habit or practice that could have a more profound effect? Meditation? Journaling? Starting a new hobby? Seeking professional therapy?

Of course, there's absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying food, even when you're not physically famished. However, I believe the first step to gaining a healthy relationship with our hunger/fullness cues is bringing awareness to the hunger we are truly trying to meet.

Want your passion for wellness to change the world? Become A Functional Nutrition Coach! Enroll today to join our upcoming live office hours.

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