Emotional Hunger in Adolescents: How to Identify It and What to Do?

Emotional hunger is an increasingly common problem among adolescents and is related to high levels of stress. Learn more about it.
Emotional Hunger in Adolescents: How to Identify It and What to Do?

Last update: 04 July, 2022

It’s common for adolescents to suffer from emotional hunger for various reasons. Moments and times of stress can condition the appetite, especially in those young people who tend to experience variations at this level. However, it’s essential to identify the problem and solve it in time in order to avoid weight gain that may affect their state of health.

Before starting, it should be noted that hunger responds to several different stimuli. Sometimes it’s a drop in blood sugar that triggers this sensation, but sometimes the focus is on the state of the microbiota or hormonal balance.

In any case, physiological hunger has nothing to do with emotional hunger. In the latter case, there’s no requirement of nutrients by the body, but only a desire to eat.

How to identify emotional hunger

Emotional hunger occurs when the stimulation of the appetite center is carried out for reasons other than actual caloric or nutritional needs. This can be experienced in certain situations of stress or distress.

According to a study published in the journal BMC, most people experience this sensation in the face of anxiety, while only one-third of the population channels it through anorexia.

In general, this process is easily identified because, in addition to increased intake, the usual eating patterns change. Emotionally hungry adolescents begin to consume food in large quantities and never seem to fill up. In addition, there’s a certain tendency to eat sweet and ultra-processed products.

A teenage boy eating fast food.
Adolescents tend to maintain diets that are rich in sugar and trans fats and high in ultra-processed foods. This deteriorates the gut microbiota and, in a way, conditions brain functioning.

What to do when a teenager suffers from emotional hunger?

Controlling emotional hunger can be difficult. However, one of the keys is to identify what produces the stressful situation and try to solve it. Sometimes, it may be necessary to consider a psychological intervention in order to act on the triggering factor and develop some self-control strategies.

As far as nutrition is concerned, it’s good to implement certain mechanisms to promote stomach distension and thus induce satiety. Therefore, it’s a good idea to increase fiber intake in the diet and prioritize the presence of vegetables.

Similarly, it has been shown that drinking a glass of water before the main meals helps to achieve a greater feeling of fullness. This can help to avoid uncontrolled food intake.

However, sometimes it may be necessary to resort to pharmacological treatment indicated by a specialist in the field. This strategy is very useful in those cases in which total control over food intake is lost and frequent binge eating occurs.

Emotional hunger can even trigger an eating disorder (ED), and in these cases, early intervention is advisable to prevent it from worsening and leaving sequelae.

Strategies to improve nervous control

As mentioned, emotional hunger has a strong mental component, but among its therapeutic strategies, we can include brain control through food. This strategy involves the intestinal microbiota, as the microorganisms that compose it manage to influence the functioning of the central nervous system.

Therefore, for everything to work properly, it’s advisable to include in the diet fermented foods with high fiber content to ensure the welfare of the digestive flora.

In addition, maintaining a healthy microbiota will prevent the genesis of inflammatory diseases of an intestinal type, which cause digestive symptoms, rejection of many foods, and malnutrition.

A teen girl eating a salad.
Complete, varied, and high-fiber diets contribute to the care of the microbiota. In addition, they favor the sensation of fullness, which counteracts emotional hunger.

Emotional hunger in adolescents is an increasingly frequent problem

The stressful stimuli to which we are currently subjected make emotional hunger an increasingly frequent condition. Adolescents should be closely monitored, as these situations can become recurrent and uncontrolled. And if not addressed in time, the state of health could be damaged.

Remember that to combat emotional hunger, it’s key to ensure that the intake produces, but it’s also necessary to take care of the health of the microbiota. Therefore, include foods with probiotics in the diet, avoid industrial ultra-processed foods, and promote activities to improve the quality of life.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Kaiser, B., Gemesi, K., Holzmann, S. L., Wintergerst, M., Lurz, M., Hauner, H., Groh, G., Böhm, M., Krcmar, H., Holzapfel, C., & Gedrich, K. (2022). Stress-induced hyperphagia: empirical characterization of stress-overeaters. BMC public health22(1), 100. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-021-12488-9
  • Dennis, E. A., Dengo, A. L., Comber, D. L., Flack, K. D., Savla, J., Davy, K. P., & Davy, B. M. (2010). Water consumption increases weight loss during a hypocaloric diet intervention in middle-aged and older adults. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.)18(2), 300–307. https://doi.org/10.1038/oby.2009.235

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.