Are you hungry? Are you sure? How do you know? These are questions I might ask myself BEFORE I decide to eat something.
When I say hungry, I mean actual physical hunger. That seems pretty simple, right? Not so much. You see, I have this little problem called emotional eating. I used to eat when I was bored, sad, mad, depressed, stressed, lonely, sleepy, or even happy! It’s a Tuesday? Great! Let’s have cake! It sounds silly to say it that way but I might as well have been doing that.
I don’t think I even really knew what hunger felt like because that would also have required me knowing what fullness felt like. Clearly I didn’t know what that was because I never stopped eating!
So, what next? How do you figure out what is driving you to eat? Of course we all know that our body needs food to use as fuel to power our bodies. When you car gets low on fuel, it may sputter and eventually stop running. The same goes for your body. When you are hungry, your body will alert you that it needs food! You don’t have to worry that you will forget to eat. (Yeah right!) Your body will remind you that you need to eat. You will receive signals from your stomach such as growling or hollow feelings. You may receive signals from your brain such as irritability, lack of concentration, headache, or fatigue. Physical hunger does not feel compulsive. Physical hunger can be put off for a little time before it becomes unbearable. It builds gradually and gets stronger over time. When you are hungry, any food will do to make it go away, and once your hunger is satisfied you no longer need to think about food.
This sounds like a nice happy dream world that normal people live in. I do have cravings and I do still feel the urge to eat for emotional reasons. However, I am learning to tell the difference, and knowing is half the battle! Now I have the skills to recognize WHY I want to eat. I can stop myself from overeating or choosing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons.
Emotional eating may develop suddenly, resulting in an urgent need to eat. Usually you want a specific food or type of food. In this case, you are not satisfied by eating another type of food. You may associate certain foods with certain good feelings or outcomes. The problem is that emotional eating also leads to guilt and shame so ultimately you end up feeling worse than before you started. And if you were eating for emotional reasons, the reasons are still there when you are done! Unlike true hunger that goes away after eating, emotional hunger lingers on, compelling you to keep eating.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t indulge. You absolutely should indulge once in a while. The difference is control. When I am in control, I can choose to eat a donut or drink a white mocha as a treat. I plan for it and set aside the points/calories to enjoy it. I don’t feel guilty after eating it because it was part of my plan. Eating for emotional reasons was me being out of control. I would eat almost unconsciously sometimes. I wasn’t savoring the flavors or really enjoying every bite. I was just eating. And then I felt bad about eating which made me want to eat more. I know that it doesn’t make sense to turn to food when I’m depressed about food, but I just kept going back to it because it was my #1 coping method.
So how do I stay in control? Tracking what (and how much) I eat is absolutely the most important thing I do for myself. How can you possibly know if you are overeating if you don’t know how much you have eaten?? You may think you can keep track in your head but our minds play tricks on us and we “conveniently” forget things. If you don’t write it down, you might forget that you had “just one piece” of candy or “just one bite” of your spouse’s dessert. Writing it down also makes you accountable and may cause you to stop and think about if it is worth it to you. I highly suggest keeping a food diary of some sort. Along with recording the food you are eating, you can make notations about your hunger levels and emotions at different times of the day. You may start to see a trend and this can help you figure out if you are eating for the right reasons. This may also help you identify your triggers. Do you reach for candy every time you finish talking to your boss? Why? How are you feeling? Are you anxious? Then that’s a trigger. A food diary or journal can also help you identify areas where you are spending empty calories so these can be eliminated or reduced.
Once you have identified your reasons for eating when you are not hungry, then you can identify alternate activities that meet the same needs. Make a list! When you find yourself wanting food for the wrong reasons, pick an alternate activity off the list and do that instead! Just get your mind off the food and the craving will pass.
By the way, your body also needs fluids, preferably water! Sometimes thirst presents itself as hunger. If you are feeling hunger symptoms but think it’s too soon to be actually hungry again, drink a glass of water. Re-evaluate in 10 minutes to see if you still feel hungry. If so, you are probably really hungry. If not, it might have been thirst. Drink more water.
Now that you are armed with all this information, ask yourself again. Are you hungry? If you are not hungry, food is not the answer! Use the HALT method…HALT and ask yourself if you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. If you answer yes to any of those questions, you are probably NOT REALLY HUNGRY!
BY THE WAY… I did actually do a little internet research for info on hunger before posting. I need to give credit to: Woman’s Day, shedyourweight.com, and life.familyeducation.com. Thanks for your input!