Physical hunger is only one reason we eat. Sometimes we eat out of boredom or everyone else around us is eating. Eating that is triggered by social cues is called appetite. Appetite generally is eating for reasons that are outside of your physical need for food. Physical hunger comes from your internal, biological need for energy.
Many of the social cues to eat are learned during childhood and stay with us for the rest of our lives. Certain events can trigger us to want to eat certain foods such as a holiday party triggering us to eat our favorite holiday desserts. Most people view eating as a social activity so we like to eat when everyone else is eating. In these situations most of us ignore our physical hunger –and fullness–cues.
During such events the hunger scale is a good tool to use to keep from overeating. Check in with yourself frequently and determine how hungry you are. Try to pace yourself during the event. Choose your favorite foods but avoid becoming painfully stuffed. This can be done by eating slowly and keeping track of how much you eat. If you feel you want to eat everything, ask the host to make up a plate of the things you can do without on the day of the party, and eat them the next day.
Emotional eating is eating that is triggered by stress and other uncomfortable emotions. Eating has become an unhealthy way for the person to deal with their emotions during stressful events. Boredom, sadness or a major life change can all lead to emotional eating in varying degrees. Some people will only occasionally eat when stressed but some compulsively overeat until it takes over their life.
Many people eat occasionally out of boredom. If you frequently eat when you think there is nothing else to do, sit down with a pen and paper and make a list of 10-15 non-food activities that you enjoy. These can be simple things like reading a book or going for a walk. Put this list on your refrigerator or any place you will see it often. When you feel bored and want to eat, look at the list and pick an activity from it. If you start to feel that you have become socially isolated, call a friend or family member to make an appointment to get out. Just a few simple lifestyle changes can make a big difference in how much you eat-and how you feel about yourself. If you are frequently eating to deal with uncomfortable emotions and can’t stop, contact a registered dietitian or mental health counselor for help dealing with these feelings.
http://au.lifestyle.yahoo.com/health/reference/19/hunger-vs-appetite-whats-difference/index.html, Yahoo Lifestyle Reference Library, Accessed May 18th 2009
http://www.healthypotato.com/Content/pdf/NutritionHandouts/Hunger%20Appetite%20SatietyFinal.pdf, Hunger, Appetite and Satiety, United States Potato Board, Accessed May 18th 2009
http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/emotional-eating-feeding-your-feelings, WebMD.com, Emotional Eating: Feeding your Feelings, Accessed May 18th 2009