Do you need to eat, want to eat, or feel like you should be eating?

Do you need to eat, want to eat, or feel like you should be eating

A guide on how to experiment with appetite awareness to take back control of your hunger.


Do you ever catch yourself eating and wonder:

“Why am I actually eating? I’m not even hungry.”?

One of the most important skills that we teach our clients in the Sleekgeek Coaching Program is to understand WHY they are eating.

Why is knowing why so important?

Because, we live in a world where:

  • Food is super convenient and accessible all around us.
  • Food is engineered to be hyper-palatable for maximum enjoyment / desire.
  • Food is the center of most social gatherings and celebrations.

As a result, most of us have forgotten what it’s like to feel truly physically hungry (or satisfied).

Experiment with appetite awareness:

Are you hungry right now?

How do you know?

There are 3 main ways that you can categorise your desire for food:

  • Do you need to eat?
  • Do you want to eat?
  • Do you feel like you should eat?

If you can get into the habit of asking yourself these 3 quick questions every time you feel the desire to eat (or even if you forget but then ask yourself while eating) it will help you build the skill of understanding your hunger.

1) Do you NEED to eat?

When you need to eat, it means that you physically require food.

Generally, this is either in the form of:

  • Energy (calories),
  • Macronutrients (proteins / carbs / fats), or
  • Micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, fibre, etc).

Most people have some kind of signal that they need to eat, such as their stomach rumbling or cramping, feeling light-headed or tired, or being “hangry”.

These signals usually develop slowly and come in waves.

When you truly need to eat, you tend to be a lot less picky about what you are willing to eat.

A great test here is to ask yourself if you’d be willing to eat something that you don’t normally “crave”, like an apple or a carrot.

If the answer is not an overly enthusiastic yes, then you’re probably more likely wanting to eat or feel like you should be eating.

If you’re sure that you need to eat, then go ahead!

2) Do you WANT to eat?

When you want to eat, it means that you intentionally desire food because it will taste good.

Generally, these foods:

  • Are high in sugar, fat, and/or salt, and
  • May also have an enjoyable texture (crunchy, chewy, slurpy – whatever gets you going).

Most people want to eat these foods (like cake, or rusks, or chocolate) because they really like them and are craving it, or because they’re feeling bored / anxious / sad and are looking for some kind of relief.

These desires usually start suddenly and tend to be pretty incessant, causing you to become fixated on a specific food, taste, or texture.

When you are wanting to eat out of desire rather than true hunger, you tend to be a lot more picky about what you’re willing to eat.

So again, a great test here is toask yourself if you’d be willing to eat something that you don’t normally “crave”, like an apple or a carrot.

If the answer is not an overly enthusiastic yes, then you’re probably not truly hungry and don’t need to eat.

If you think that you’re only wanting to eat, then either see if you can delay until you’re truly hungry, or give yourself a much smaller portion than you would ideally like to have / normally have.

3) Do you feel like you SHOULD eat?

This one can be tricky, but when you feel like you should eat, it means that you feel it’s appropriate behaviour, even though you don’t particularly need to or want to eat.

Generally, we do this:

  • Out of habit (it’s that time of the day), or
  • To conform to what others are doing, or
  • To be proactive about what our brain knows might happen but our body doesn’t.

The most common reason that people eat as a result of feeling like they should is because of the time of day. They’ve just woken up, so it’s breakfast time. They’re on their lunch break, so it’s lunchtime. The sun is setting, so it’s dinner time. Oh, and don’t forget the 10am snack, 4pm snack, and 9pm snack, right?!

However, conforming to social norms is an incredibly important part of being a functioning human being in today’s society. It’s up to you to decide what’s socially acceptable. Are you a dinner guest at a friend’s house? You really should eat something (just eat less) so that you’re not rude. Did you wake up and not feel hungry at all? Skip breakfast (no, it won’t destroy your metabolism) and pack a snack-pack for when true hunger eventually does strike.

Finally, there are some cases where you’re trying to be proactive because even though you’re not hungry, you believe you should eat now or else. Sometimes this is unjustified (growing up poor can cause anxiety about the future availability of food), but other times it’s completely justified (you’ve got an intense workout coming up, or you’re going into a 4-hour long meeting that goes through lunchtime).

If you think that you’re only eating because you feel like you should, then either see if you can delay until you’re truly hungry, or give yourself a much smaller portion than you would ideally like to have / normally have.


Experiment Lessons:

Below are the “best case scenarios” that one might learn (or get skilled at) after going through these questions several times and practicing mindful eating.

Best case scenario for when it comes to NEEDING to eat:

  • Eat when truly hungry on a scale of 7+ out of 10 (with 1 being not at all hungry and 10 being the hungriest you’ve ever been).
  • Hunger is the spice of life – it makes food taste so much better 🙂

Best case scenario for when it comes to WANTING to eat:

  • Either, recognise it as just an impulse that will soon go away or that you’re able to delay it until you become truly hungry.
  • Or, accept the tradeoff (overeating, weight gain, slower progress, etc) and eat however much you want. You’re an adult, you can deal with the consequences.
  • Or, eat slowly and mindfully, truly savouring and enjoying it, and then stop at “80% full” (or just give yourself a much smaller portion than you would ideally like to eat).
  • Know that you can’t go through life entirely avoiding foods that you really enjoy because eating is an important part of enjoying life – the key is to not do it EVERY TIME and to also apply moderation.

Best case scenario for when it comes to feeling like you SHOULD eat:

  • Learn and do better next time.
  • For example, if I know that I’m going over to someone’s house for dinner then I make sure that I don’t eat soon before going over so that I’m truly hungry by the time they serve dinner.
  • Or, I schedule my meals and my workouts in a way that I’m feeling truly hungry right when it’s time for my pre-workout meal, so that I’m eating due to both physical hunger and eating proactively for my workout.
  • If you have no choice, then simply eat a much smaller portion that you would normally.

6 Differences Between Emotional and Physical Hunger:

Her’es a bonus comparison of Emotional Hunger VS Physical Hunger

Emotional vs Physical Hunger


Be sure to check out our section on Overcoming Emotional Eating if you feel this hits home hard with you.


Get help:

To get in control of your hunger, you’ll need to be consider. To be consistent, you’ll need help.

Option 1: Sleekgeek Nutrition Guide.

It’s free, and be sure to check out the sections on the Kitchen Makeover Guide, Eating Slowly, Eating to “80% Full”, The 90/10 Rule for Moderation, and 5 Steps to Overcoming Emotional Eating.

Option 2: The Sleekgeek Coaching Program.

It’s a premium option coached at a world-class level. In there, we tackle nutritional challenges like: Weekend overeating, emotional eating / stress eating, cravings, snacking when not hungry, lack of time to plan / prepare meals, large portions, not knowing how to make healthy choices, and sooooo much more!