There is a difference in the desire or influence to eat at almost any given time.

Nutritionists, dieticians, and psychologists refer to this situation as appetite versus hunger.

The need and physical readiness to provide fuel and nutrition for the body is hunger.

The desire or longing to eat -often influenced by emotions, occasions, sensations, and situations – is appetite.

The idea here is that one could identify the difference between appetite and hunger by categorizing one’s “sense” of the motivating factors that bring eating to mind.  So, if a person is aware of what drives their motivation to eat at the moment – even though the awareness doesn’t “solve” an underlying emotional issue; that awareness can and does provide a platform for making a decision about whether and what to eat at that moment. This process is different than simply “succumbing,” or resisting the urge to eat.

Eating is healthier when you’ve made a conscious decision about it, instead of an automatic or mindless response. The authors of the book Think Thin, Be Thin summed up the situation pretty neatly in the following way.  Here is their summary, with some minor edits. Also many other experts take issue with the idea that appetite is driven exclusively by emotional factors.


Builds gradually

Occurs several hours after a meal

Goes away when full or “satisfied”

Felt or noticed “below the neck” — ie: stomach

Eating leads to a feeling or sense of satisfaction/satiation


Develops suddenly

Unrelated to time, or amount of time since last meal

Present/persists despite feeling full

Felt or noticed “above the neck” – ie: a “taste” for cookies, chips, etc., or being “in the mood” for a snack

Eating in this state of mind often leads to guilt, shame, or disappointment—as well as overeating

Take some time this week to study and understand these two categories of hunger.  Maybe you will gain some insight in identifying some of your thoughts and patterns that are playing a role in your decisions about eating. [MINDSET]

Sometimes we quietly berate ourselves with the old and sort of tyrannical ideas about “emotional eating”. Not all emotional eating is driven by negative emotions or thoughts!

And the so-called “comfort foods” that sometimes tempt us when we are not physically in need of food; are not always a regression into some deep, dark cavern of pain and sorrow from our past lives.   Yes- sometimes chocolate is just one of “our happy thoughts,”

as Peter Pan put it so brightly.  A small piece of chocolate will probably not knock you off the log, as long as you remain mindful and

don’t allow it to become a symbol of defeat, or to control your next decision. Some eating is stress driven, and that is where Biofeedback can make an amazing difference.

My “PAUSE” plan comes in very handy in this scenario.

HINT: If you do find yourself being judgmental, berating yourself, etc. – say this nice little reminder to stop yourself:

“CANCEL, CANCEL;” and then proceed in moving yourself back into a positive mindset.

Good resource: the book Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink, Cornell University consumer behavior professor.


© Ellie Wolf, MS, BCB, Fellow/BCIA

February 2011/Revised August 2017