Advice from a Registered Dietitian: Emotional Eating? Here’s how to Know the Difference between Real Hunger and Cravings

By: Sarah Casciato, RD, MHSc., and Alicia Lang, MHSc(c)


Do you find that you're feeling hungry more than usual or that your stomach feels like a "bottomless pit"? You may be dealing with emotional eating.

There are three common reasons why you might eat:

  1. Helpful hunger cues
  2. Craving something satisfying
  3. Emotionally-driven comfort seeking

Helpful hunger cues are your body's way of telling you it genuinely needs food. Signs you may be feeling helpful hunger cues include: stomach rumbling, tired/light headed, 4+ hours since your last meal or snack, sense of urgency, increased irritability, or your stomach feels empty.

What to do: Always listen to your body. Eat a balanced meal or snack, taking breaks every few bites to decide if you are feeling comfortably full and satisfied yet

Craving something satisfying is when you may be craving a certain taste, texture, or specific food, because it tastes good. Signs you might be craving something satisfying include not feeling physically hungry, but craving a specific taste or texture, such as wanting something salty or crunchy.

What to do: Don't ignore these cravings. Chances are you may be craving a lower quality food such as a sweet treat or a salty snack, so prepare a small serving of the food you’re craving and pair it with a higher quality food. For example, if you are craving chocolate, try pairing ~4 squares (20g) of chocolate with 1/2 cup of your favourite fruit. Remove any distractions, and eat your food slowly and mindfully, paying close attention to the texture and taste. Often we eat the foods we crave too quickly to derive satisfaction, but by eating mindfully, we increase our satisfaction and enjoyment.

Emotionally-driven comfort seeking is when you are eating as a reaction to an emotion. Signs you may be feeling seeking comfort through eating include feeling stressed, overwhelmed, distressed, sad, or other emotions rather than feeling physically hungry.

What to do: Take a step back and reflect. Are you actually hungry, or are you feeling overwhelmed? Oftentimes, we reach for foods to feel the joy associated with their delicious taste and texture. These foods may be lower quality, fun foods such as ice cream, chips, or cake. We may associate these foods with positive feelings or moments from our lives, and when we are stressed, we seek comfort. Instead of reaching for food, consider what else you can do to find joy or comfort. Maybe you really just need to call a friend, family member, or partner to talk, or maybe you need to clear your head with a walk around the block. It can be difficult to take a step back and think when we are overwhelmed, but it's a valuable habit to start.

Bottom Line: There are many reasons you may be feeling hungry, and it's important to take a step back and think "am I actually hungry, or am I just looking for comfort? Could I find what I’m looking for in another way?". 

Looking for help with emotional eating? A Registered Dietitian can support you in finding helpful strategies to manage your eating habits. 

Click Here to book a session with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, today!



  1. Craving Change. (2017). Types of Hunger. Retrieved from
  2. Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2017). The Intuitive eating workbook: Ten principles for nourishing a healthy relationship with food. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.