How often, hunger is the main reason for you to eat? Often, we are not even aware of how many different aspects influence our decision to eat. What we are sometimes missing is the awareness of these triggers. Trying to lose weight and to reduce our calorie intake will not be successful if we only focus on what we eat. We must pay more attention to WHY we eat.
Hunger – physical vs. emotional
We have many different motivations to eat. Hunger is surely one of them but often not even the main motivation. Far more often, unpleasant emotions, boredom, anger or even the smell of food can trigger us to eat. Since we learned from childhood that eating makes us feel better (often parents offer candies or cookies as reward or comfort), we use these strategies in our adult lives as well. We use the tools we were given and often do not question if their use is appropriate. We might choose candies, cookies, pizza, or chocolate, which are highly processed, as comfort foods. For a short period of time we might feel better, but this pleasure often does not last long. Unfortunately, nobody chooses broccoli or spinach as comfort food.
Foods cannot solve problems
But foods cannot solve emotional problems or stress. They actually make things worse because we feel bad and guilty after overeating. If we were angry of lonely in the first place, the situation did not chance after having ice cream of chocolate. Gaining weight adds another layer to this vicious circle because we start to dislike out appearance, go on a diet, crave these foods even more, overeat and feel even worse. And there we go, starting the vicious cycle once more. Less and less our physical hunger drives the decision to eat, because the whole process is spoilt by the idea of calories, weight loss, guilt, and self-hate.
What drives our cravings?
We should start to be very mindful of what drives our cravings. Sometimes the question “what is really going on here” can help us to get more clarity in the moment. But how to use it?
If you have the urge to eat ice cream, chocolate, or chips, make a short break, take a breath. Ask yourself “is there any hunger?”,”how do I feel?”, “what am I really looking for?”. It might take some time of practice to find an answer that feels right. Try it again and again to learn distinguishing hunger from other feelings. Probably the training process requires some patience. Ignoring you body’s signals of hunger and satiety for so long, makes these signals less obvious at first. We have to learn to listen and to hear the whisper again.
Make a Pause
We might drink a glass of water, assess what we really need and make a pause before acting on a craving. This can make a world of a difference on the decision we make. It is good to know that a craving disappears within 15 to 20 minutes. You have the choice to act on a craving and to cover unwanted feelings or to pause and to figure out what would make you feel better on the long run.
How do I feel?
Maybe you feel stressed, helpless, angry, lonely, unheard, ignored, tired, unwell, or unable to cope with the demands of a situation? Maybe you did not have a single minute today for your own needs? At first let this be ok. It is ok how you feel right now. You are a good person, even if you are stressed or angry. That is part of life. Not accepting how you feel does not change the situation anyway, it even makes it worse. You are allowed to feel the way you feel right now, but this does not mean you have to stay in this emotional state for long.
Maybe we are stressed and taking a break, a nap, making some breathing exercises or asking for support would help to reduce the stress while eating does not. If we are lonely eating might cover this up but finding likeminded people or calling a friend targets the real problem.
Compassion is key
It can be a great start to be more compassionate with our needs, even if we are not perfect (what we all are not, luckily). Often, we can help others much easier to address their needs and to be compassionate, but for ourselves we certainly need to actively train it. What would you recommend a close friend if they were in your situation right now? Probably you would not recommend to bathe in guilt and shame or to punish themselves because of a mistake. What would you tell them to get better? How about applying the same strategy for yourself?
Physical or Emotional Hunger?
I like the example of comparing our emotions which trigger us to eat, with a pair of favorite shoes which are hurting our feet. Going to a back massage will not do the trick if we continue to wear these shoes instead of changing them, which would address the real cause of the pain .
There is nothing bad on occasionally eating some chocolate, but we should do it mindfully, enjoying the flavor instead of stuffing in a whole chocolate bar in front of the fridge without even realizing the taste. In some situations, we can make healthier decisions like adding unprocessed cocoa powder to mashed bananas as a healthy and delicious treat. But more often we should practice to realize which underlying emotion or feeling is our trigger to eat.
Want to continue reading? Here you go:
- You are lovable, you are enough!
- Why you need self-love first to change.
- Mindful Eating is about Awareness.
Resources and recommendations:
-  Mackey, J.; Pulde, A. & Ledermann, M. (2017): The Whole Foods Diet: The Lifesaving Plan for Health and Longevity. Grand Central Publishing.
- Lynn Rossy (2016): The Mindfulness-Based Eating Solution: Proven Strategies to End Overeating, Satisfy Your Hunger, and Savor Your Life. New Harbinger.
- Michelle May (2014): Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating: A Mindful Eating Program for Healing Your Relationship with Food and Your Body.