Phantom vs Physical Hunger: Which One Is Keeping You Overweight?

Believe it or not, phantom hunger is the no. 1 most cited reason for why people fail to reach – and stay at – their happy weight.

Hang on a sec …what IS this phantom hunger thingy?

Hunger’s hunger, isn’t it?

Uh-uh.

Nope.

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Definitely not.

It’s real easy to confuse physical hunger with phantom hunger because they feel the same, but there’s a world of difference.

For starters – one’s biological, the other, psychological.

And, if we only ate when we were physically hungry, we’d all be our happy weight by now!

So, what IS this phantom hunger?

Phantom hunger’s also known as comfort eating or emotional eating. Perhaps you think of it as binge eating. Maybe you have your own name for it.

But even if you don’t have a name for it, you probably recognise it as something you do when you’re stressed, bored or anxious.

“I eat. It’s just what I do when I’m stressed out. That’s how I cope with life.”

You can already see the vicious cycle phantom hunger creates.

Phantom hunger creates three issues out of one.

- You eat because you’re stressed.
- You feel guilty because you overeat.
- You put on weight. Which stresses you out even more. You eat some more.
- And, because you ‘avoided’ dealing with the original issue (by turning to food), you still haven’t dealt with that problem.

Duh!

That vicious cycle, dear reader, is why you need to get a handle on your phantom hunger.

The good news is that you can get to the bottom of your phantom stomach. And, you’re right, it isn’t by counting calories!

The first step in this journey is to recognise the difference between the two hungers.

True physical hunger

Physical hunger is biological. The hunger comes on slowly. It begins with a tummy rumble, which if ignored, develops into hunger pangs.  Any food will satiate you. Even stale bread looks appetising.  Most importantly, there’s no emotion involved. The decision to eat is purely rational – you’re hungry, you eat, job done.

Phantom hunger

Phantom hunger is psychological. It originates in your mind, not your tummy. And because it stems from the mind, no amount of food can fill it up. You can eat, and eat and eat some more, and still feel hungry. The phantom stomach is bottomless.

Yes, the hunger feels real, but it’s not. Nobody – trust me on this – ever starved to death by ignoring their phantom stomach.

Phantom hunger comes on quickly and only a specific food will satisfy. Usually something sweet, fatty or salty – whatever your specific indulgence food is.

(BTW: it’s never cauliflower or stale bread).

And it always has a trigger. Often it’s a specific someone or something. Maybe it’s an upsetting incident with your children or when your partner comes home in a grouch. Perhaps it’s after you get criticised at work or when you’re alone in the house?

But the most telling sign you’re feeding the phantom stomach is the accompanying guilt and remorse. On some level you know it’s not nutritional nourishment you seek.

It’s emotional nourishment you’re after and no amount of chocolate can ever satisfy that need. If it could, it would have by now! But more on that next week.

Homework

Having read this far, you now know enough to be able to recognise which of the stomachs you’re feeding – the real one or the imaginary one.

Your homework is this: continue to eat as you would normally, and observe yourself.

No judgement.

Just observation.

Look out for patterns. Notice how you feel when you overeat. Observe your triggers – is it certain people or specific events?

Don’t do anything.

Just notice is all.

By observing yourself you’ll start to build an awareness around when you’re eating for physical nourishment and when you’re eating for emotional nourishment.

If you do eat for emotional reasons. It’s OK. This week isn’t about gathering ammunition to beat yourself and make yourself wrong. It’s about bringing a mindfulness to how you live.

Watch and learn. Watch and learn.

Next week we’ll explore what to do with your phantom hunger. But for this week it’s about tuning into what’s real and what’s not.

Go observe : )

(Real) Love etc, Avril

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