You have two kinds of hunger.

There is an awesome woman in the eating disorder/disordered eating world named Dr. Anita Johnston.  She lives in Hawaii.  Is super earthy.  And I hope one day I get to meet her because she had a great impact on my personal recovery out of disordered eating.  

She is unique in that she speaks in metaphors to help people understand their disordered eating/eating disorders.  I think it can be difficult to understand ones behaviors around food or even to understand our bodies needs.  Disordered eating/eating disorders tend to become extremely focused on numbers: fat, our weight, scales, calories, etc.  Metaphors are a different way to see our disordered eating that does not involve our analytical left-brain who loves to focus obsessively on numbers.  Metaphors call on our right-brain because metaphors are artsy, creative, visual aids that can help us process through and more deeply understand our behaviors around food.  

One of Anita’s metaphors has to do with realizing that we have two types of hunger: physical hunger and emotional hunger.  She describes these two types of hungers as two different tanks we have.  I used buckets for the visual below.

So we all have two buckets we need to fill to be satisfied.  Here is what we can use to fill these buckets…

how to satisfy your physical & emotional hunger |

The problem is that people think they only have one type of hunger.  They think they only have one type of bucket to fill and they can start going to food (or restriction of food) to try and satisfy that hunger.  But the thing is…how to satisfy your physical & emotional hunger | immaEATthat.comIt is very easy to confuse physical hunger and emotional hunger.  But it is important to tease them apart and recognize if one bucket is being filled too much or too little.  

Here are some steps to take to tease apart these two buckets:

  1. Realize that we do have more than one type of hunger.  
  2. Identify if you are feeling physical hunger.  To do this, check in with the hunger and fullness scale.  I would like to mention that the hunger and fullness scale is not everything.  It is a good tool to help you tune into your body, but if you are anxious/stressed/emotional, you may feel hungry or full when you are not actually hungry or full.  Did that confuse you? Perfect. There are no rules for you to follow.  You do not need more knowledge to know how to eat better.  You just have to start experimenting with what feels best in your body and what your body sensations mean.  If you have had years of disordered eating, you will likely need support getting back in touch with what amount of food is adequate.
  3. If you have decided it’s not physical hunger, make a list of how you fill your emotional hunger bucket.  Then choose one thing from the emotional hunger bucket to do instead of engaging in a disordered eating behavior.  

Here’s how I fill my buckets…

how to satisfy your physical & emotional hunger |

Would love to hear your thoughts on this post and how you fill your emotional hunger bucket.

If you have a difficult relationship with food and your body, I hope you will look into my online course and see if it is something that resonates with you.

{just my usual disclaimer.  if you are suffering from an eating disorder, reading this blog does not replace meeting one-on-one with a dietitian, therapist and medical professional.  also, this post dealt with emotions.  i’m not a therapist.  i’m a dietitian.  so I encourage you to seek out a therapist who would be trained in helping you through any emotional discomfort you are going through. hugs to you.}


  1. I am loving your blog lately. You put out amazing thought provoking posts that are written in a manner that everyone can understand/relate to. I love your bucket visual and as a school psychologist/mental health provider I LOVE the talk about filling your emotional hunger. Too many kiddos today grow up thinking we need to stuff our feelings inside and ignore them. Talking/not bottling things up and focusing on face to face relationships/connections are two of my favorite ways to fill my emotional bucket. Also focusing on the here and now/present moment is something else that satisfies my emotional hunger. Have a great weekend!

  2. While in treatment for my ED years ago, my therapist challenged me to make a list of things I love to do. Since eating disorders can make you lose sight of yourself, this was a much tougher task than I’d initially thought, but it’s been so helpful! Now, whenever I notice my “emotional bucket” running on empty, I pick something from that list to do– sometimes it’s putting on my super soft robe, sometimes it’s dancing in my room to Shakira songs, and sometimes it’s watching videos on EllenTube :).

    One concept I’d love to see you touch on is how eating when you’re not physically hungry can also be a healthy part of intuitive eating. Sometimes, your work schedule may require you to eat earlier than you’d prefer. Sometimes you’re running low on groceries and you have to make do with what you’ve got, even if it’s not the meal you’re intuitively craving. And, of course, sometimes you eat something just because it looks good! I refer to this last type of “hunger” as the Ice Cream Compartment. On a hot summer night, you may be physically satisfied after dinner, but there’s always room left in your stomach’s ice cream compartment ;).

    • Hey Abby! Loving your “emotional bucket” fillers-uppers:)

      Also, I love the idea of doing a post of how eating when not physically hungry can be a very normal way of eating and is indicative of having a healthy relationship with food and your body.

      Until I write that post, there is a quote from Ellyn Satter I share frequently with clients on what normal eating is…”Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it -not just stop eating because you think you should. Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food. Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad or bored, or just because it feels good.

      Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way. It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful. Normal eating is overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. And it can be undereating at times and wishing you had more. Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life.

      In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and your feelings.” (source:

      • Thank you for this quote! and also for this blog :)
        I have had ED symptoms for about 5 years that im finally starting to learn about. Its so fun to have my mind full of things other than food/eating/tracking/weight loss.

      • Thank you for this quote! and also for this blog :)
        I have had ED symptoms for about 5 years that im finally starting to learn about. Its so fun to have my mind full of things other than food/eating/tracking/weight loss. I fill my emotional bucket by spending time with friends/family, drinking coffee, trying new restaurants, shopping, painting, reading, journaling, and napping. This would have been a super hard question for me before I started working on my ED behaviors. :)

  3. I like to read, do yoga, coffee with friends, biking, Bible study, family time. It’s certainly important to recognize the hunger and address the real issue.

    • I’m such a terrible reader. I think I need to get better at setting short term goals with reading. Like, try to read 5 pages a day. I like the info in the book, it’s just reading is like pulling teeth for me. I wish every book was on Audible!

  4. Really great post Kylie, it’s so true about there being two types of hunger. I can definitely see where, back in the days of my disordered eating, I did not have anything in bucket 2… so I just filled it with more food. Now I have things to fill bucket 2 that are much more appropriate. Self love for the win :)

  5. That was kind of a huge thing for me to recognize recently – that no matter how many cookies I ate/didn’t eat – it wouldn’t solve the problem!

  6. Love that bucket metaphor and I really agree. For a while I felt lost with how to fill bucket 2. I didn’t know what made me happy anymore without my eating disorder! But now so many things do besides food: listening to podcasts, time with friends and fam and my pup, blogging, yoga, church!

  7. I absolutely loved this post Kylie. My lecturer recommended that book to us and it has been on my list to read. This post has given me more reason to read it :) 
    I think what you have outlined here is so important to teach. We try and fill bucket two up by controlling food one way or the other etc when really we need what you have said above. I like to fill my bucket two with meditation, prayer, self love affirmations (I am worthy etc), time with J, girl time, time in nature (I am a little Earthy too ;) ), moving in a way that feels good when I want to and dancing. Putting on songs as I cook and just dancing like a wild woman really lifts me up haha. Great post :) 

  8. Loved this post, Kylie! Learning to understand the different faces of hunger is challenging and frustrating, but I’ve found the best way is to start with bucket #2 and make sure I feel calm, loved, secure and content before moving on to bucket #1. If I have time (and space!), I like to do a quick meditation or yoga flow, ending with my knees hugged against my chest on my back — for some reason this makes me feel super calm and secure. Or I text my mom or good friends, share a laugh with someone, listen to a podcast or go on a walk.

    Thanks so much for all these compassionate posts – it’s hard as a dietitian to work with others who believe that we need to constantly be helping people achieve some type of perfection when that can be so counterproductive. Glad to see blogs like yours focus on controlling less, accepting more and being OK with mistakes from time to time!

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  10. I love when your posts involve “exercises” like this where you do them for yourself as an example. It is very helpful for me!

  11. Yet another inspiring posts. You’re one of the many resources that I’ve been turning to during my recovery process and I am so grateful for the content that you’ve been putting out lately. At some point, would you be willing to post a list of the podcasts that you’ve been featured on? I was very inspired by your episode on the Nutrition Matters podcast and was curious if you had been on any others. Thanks again!

  12. Thank you SO much for all these posts. I love reading every single one of them and they’re all a great dose of rational thoughts helping combat the eating disorder thoughts that have raided my mind the past couple months. They’re helping me wrap my mind around the fact that it is OK (and very very important!!!) to listen to and trust my body! :) <3

  13. Awesome article!

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  15. Thank you so much for this post! I loved your bucket lists so much I had to make my own so I can hang it up and look at it daily. I even tried to make the text and colors similar to yours because I thought it was so cute.

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  17. Love this, it creates an awesome visual to help people.

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