When the Lack of Love is Disguised as Hunger

Do you find yourself feeling hungry at all hours of the day and night? If so, your body may be trying to claim some kind of nutrient that it's lacking. A nutrient that has nothing to do with your diet, but with your emotions.
When the Lack of Love is Disguised as Hunger

Last update: 12 September, 2022

Some people think they’re hungry all the time. However, this sensation isn’t always satisfied with food, since it has nothing to do with real hunger. In fact, often, a voracious and disproportionate intake of food is associated with emotional deficiencies, such as a lack of love from others or toward yourself.

Obtaining nutrients isn’t the only reason people eat. There are many other valid reasons, although not all of them are equally healthy. Obviously, as humans, we eat to satisfy the basic need of hunger, but also to calm certain emotions and intensify others.

For example, you might eat to celebrate, say goodbye to someone, or bring a certain stage in your life to an end. You eat when you’re happy, sad, afraid, anxious, and bored. You eat because your partner doesn’t reply to a message on WhatsApp or because you haven’t felt the warmth of a hug for a long time. Furthermore, you eat because you can’t look at yourself compassionately in the mirror. Your love and hunger seem to go hand in hand.

Woman very hungry at all hours
Sometimes, a lack of affection translates into an excess of food.

Signs of love

When you were born, you were given nutrients and love through the same thing: food. At that time, the fact that your caregiver provided you with food also meant a sign of love, support, and protection. You were nurtured organically and emotionally from breast milk or a bottle, which was often accompanied by caresses, certain smells, loving words, and soft melodies.

Providing food for a baby is one of the most sincere acts of love. Those who receive it feel protected and safe. If your physiological and symbolic needs were satisfied as an infant, in adulthood, you’ll be able to give love to other people and to yourself. On the other hand, if you weren’t loved enough as a child, you may try to fill that gap with something that makes you feel instantly protected: food.

You might believe that, by eating, the feelings of sadness and anguish will disappear. However, what really happens is that they’re only anesthetized for a moment. So, as you can see, the idea of confusing hunger for love isn’t too far-fetched at all.

Are you eating your emotions?

Hunger isn’t synonymous with lack of love but the two do tend to come close. Indeed, often, a lack of affection translates into an excess of food. Remember that time you raided the pantry at three in the morning looking for something sweet? Maybe what you really needed was a hug. Or that binge eating session after a bad day at work probably happened because you just needed someone to listen to you. In these kinds of cases, you’re mitigating your feelings of loneliness by eating large amounts of food.

Compulsive eating is a behavior that can become a habit. Furthermore, it can turn into a serious problem like an eating disorder. It can also be a warning about unpleasant and dysfunctional emotional states. Indeed, the compulsion to eat often arises in response to feeling desperately alone, misunderstood, or abandoned.

In reality, it’s happened to all of us at some point, seeking well-being in the wrong place. After all, food can’t hurt us, set limits on us, reject us, or get angry with us, as people can.

“Compulsion is despair on the emotional level. The substances, people, or activities that we become compulsive about are those we believe capable of taking our despair away.” 

-Geneen Roth-

Love can’t be found in the fridge

How can you tell if you’ll find something in the fridge to satisfy your hunger? The answer lies in differentiating your need for food from your need for love. In other words, you need to know the difference between physiological hunger and emotional hunger.

Physiological hunger is regulated by your homeostatic system, which is responsible for keeping your body’s energy and nutrients balanced. Emotional hunger is regulated by the hedonic system. It’s associated with the repetition of certain behaviors as a means of obtaining pleasure. In addition, there are some differential characteristics that can help you distinguish between physiological and emotional hunger.

Once you’ve detected that your hunger is linked with your emotional world, you can try to satisfy it intelligently. Emotional hunger often hides a deeper meaning: the need to accept yourself. It means you need to love and treat yourself with kindness.

These feelings of emptiness and personal dissatisfaction often wear the guise of hunger. That’s when you choose to eat quickly and unconsciously, believing that it’ll make you feel better.

Your hunger for self-love not only affects your diet but also your social attitude. Therefore, if you feel dissatisfied with who you are, you may tend to demand from others the love that you feel you lack. If this happens, you approach those around you from need and not from choice.

Sad woman thinking that I am not good at anything
A lack of self-love produces a feeling of emptiness that’s sometimes disguised as hunger.

The importance of looking at yourself

As much as those around you will try to ‘heal’ your lack of self-acceptance, they won’t be able to. Indeed, their attempts to fill your shortcomings won’t be enough, because the emptiness only belongs to you. You carry it inside yourself. In fact, no amount of food will be enough to calm your excessive desire to be loved.

If you feel like you’re lacking in love, start by looking at yourself through different eyes. Although interpersonal bonds represent a fundamental part of your well-being, self-love is essential. Start cultivating it now.

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  • Roth, Geneen. (1991). Cuando la comida sustituye al amor. La relación entre las
    carencias afectivas y nuestra actitud ante la comida.
    Barcelona, (2014). Ediciones Urano, S.A.
  • Palomino-Pérez, Ana María. (2020). Rol de la emoción en la conducta alimentaria. Revista chilena de nutrición.