There are 12 different types of emotional hunger, but you should know that the result is always the same, no matter the motivation: you feel truly hungry, and at the moment when the craving for food grips you, you can't tell that your hunger originates in your mind, not in your belly.

Your Two Stomachs

I like to think of it this way: you eat when you aren't really hungry because you have two stomachs — one real, the other a phantom. The hunger in your belly signals you when your system has a biological requirement for food. If that was the only signal of hunger you received, you'd be thin. It's the phantom stomach that causes the problems. The phantom stomach sends out a hunger signal when unruly emotions and unsolved personal agendas start pushing themselves into awareness. A short-circuit occurs, and you feel so hungry that you're compelled to eat.

I see the power of the phantom stomach demonstrated almost daily in my work with patients. The other day, a patient who had just finished breakfast told me in the middle of a difficult session that she suddenly felt extremely hungry. As soon as we started talking about her sexual problems with her husband, her appetite kicked in and she could hardly wait to get to McDonald's. Her phantom stomach was shouting, demanding action.

Phantom Hunger vs. Biological Hunger

Phantom hunger comes on quickly and knows what it wants, and it wants a lot of it. Biological hunger comes on gradually and you can satisfy it with relatively small amounts of food. Phantom hunger has such power that it drives you to go to almost any lengths to satisfy it.

I saw this fact demonstrated in Technicolor when I consulted at the Pritikin Institute in Santa Monica, California, where clients paid ten thousand dollars a month to take part in a controlled diet and exercise program. Although the tuition for the program far exceeded the cost of attending the most expensive private university in America, I frequently found participants sneaking out for hamburgers and French fries at a corner stand. These were all highly motivated people sent to Pritikin by their doctors because of serious, life-threatening health problems, but positive motivation clearly wasn't enough to help them resist phantom hunger. As you know, all dieting programs depend on positive motivation, ignoring the obvious: that there's such power in the emotional forces underlying the desire to binge or overeat that if you don't expose those forces and conquer them, you'll always be at their mercy — you'll always have weight problems.

How to End Phantom Hunger

If you want to stay on the lose-some-pounds-and-gain-them back cycle for a lifetime, go on a conventional diet. But if you want to stay trim for the rest of your life, you need to stop focusing on what you should eat to lose weight, and instead ask why you overeat when you really aren't hungry.

Although diets can provide important nutritional information, we can see that diets don't and can't work if they don't address the real reason why you overeat. MASTERINGFood will help you to recognize the difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger, and will teach you how to deal with each of the emotions that trigger your phantom hunger so that you eat only when you need to, not when distress triggers your cravings.

Author's Bio: 

Psychiatrist Roger Gould is the leading authority on Emotional Eating. His website, MasteringFood.com has helped thousands of people control their urge to overeat.