Strengthen Your Hunger Awareness

Strengthen Your Hunger Awareness- Emotional Hunger vs. Real Hunger

By Richard Kerr-

Most people with bulimia see hunger as the enemy. Something to fight against, ignore and push aside. You probably hate feeling hungry because it can act as a warning sign that you ‘need’ to binge.

It is important to realise that in order to recover from bulimia hunger needs to become something that you acknowledge, accept and embrace. It needs to become your best friend.

This can be a real challenge…

Right now, I know your hunger is scary, massive, erratic, uncontrollable and insatiable. This type of hunger is a NORMAL side effect of a restricting your food intake and is a result of bingeing and purging.

To recover from bulimia it’s very important that you learn to get back in touch with your subtle hunger sensations. The sooner you start to tune into your hunger sensations the faster they will return.

At this stage it is important to focus on identifying and recognising subtle hunger and satiety sensations. It may take a few months for these sensations to return, and a little longer again before you can rely on them 100% of the time so it makes sense to start practicing right now.

In time once your hunger signals have fully returned you can then use them to help you decide what, when and how much you should eat and when you have had enough to eat but for now the only objective is to look out for the hunger signals.

To practice this you can start using the hunger tracker to rate your hunger levels throughout the day. As you can see number 1 on the scale relates to being at your hungriest while number 10 relates to being at your fullest.

As a general rule you should eat when you notice yourself between numbers (3 and 4).

REMEMBER: Hunger is the most powerful binge trigger there is, so don’t let yourself get down to numbers 1 or 2 or you may trigger a binge.

REMEMBER: Bulimia often makes you eat beyond number 7, whereby you feel uncomfortably full. This puts you at high risk of feeling the need to purge. Staying between numbers 6 & 7 will help you feel comfortable after eating.

If you don’t feel any hunger sensations continue with structured eating, ensure you eat without distractions and eat slowly. In time the sensations will return. 

I found that after the first few months of structured eating I did start to feel real hunger and fullness sensations. Although this was only at certain times of the day and I couldn’t really rely on them fully until way after a year of recovery. That can sound scary, ecpecially if you’re just starting out on recovery, but it is so important to keep the bigger picture in mind. It’s also important to understand that everyone is totally different, often your true hunger and fullness signals can return within only a few weeks.


No matter how much time it ends up taking, recovery is always worth it! Think about how long you’ve had bulimia for, if it takes you a few months or even a year to get those hunger and fullness signals working 100% of the time it’s still really nothing when you have the rest of your wonderful, bulimia-free life ahead of you!


A great tip to distinguish emotional hunger from real hunger is that you feel emotional hunger high up around the throat, where as you feel real hunger lower down near your stomach. It might sound a little strange at first, but when you know you’re trying to numb emotions with a binge think about it and I bet you’ll feel that same sensation in your throat!


Catherine Liberty (BRS Coach)



Task for today

Throughout the day try to rate your hunger level using the scale above. At first this will be a big challenge and It may take weeks before you start to really recognise your first subtle sensations of hunger but stick with it.

The more you practise the stronger the signals will become.  


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