Ever notice yourself eating when you’re not actually hungry?
Or eating and then suddenly feeling absolutely awful (physically or mentally) when you’re done?
There are plenty of reasons why we eat what we do and when we do, and most of them having nothing to do with the biological drive to obtain nutrients for survival.
Firstly, it’s important to note that there are some semantics here.
Hunger and Appetite
I will define hunger as the physical need for sustenance. Hunger is when your body says you need to eat. Sometimes it tells you by stomach pains, growls/rumbles, or you may feel weak, tired, shaky, lethargic or confused. These are times when you really really need to get some food in your belly!
But appetite is different. Appetite is the psychological desire to consume. It’s got little to do with being hungry. In fact, we can often be very hungry and have very little appetite, and, probably more commonly, have a big appetite, but no real hunger.
So, often our hunger and our appetite don’t match. Why is this?
- We no longer recognise our body’s hunger signals
- We can’t tell the difference between thirst and hunger signals
- We eat too quickly and don’t give the body time to tell us we are satiated
- We are so accustomed with being overfed that even a little hunger is too uncomfortable
I suggest that the next time you are about to eat something you:
- Stop! Before you eat that, ask yourself “Am I actually hungry?”
- If you’re not sure, try drinking some water. We are an overnourished and under-hydrated nation. It won’t hurt to drink some water anyway. It may encourage you to eat a little less.
- If you’re definitely hungry, ask yourself “How hungry am I?” and rate it on a scale of 1-10:
Rating / Physical Sensation
1 Starvation, physical pain
2 Definite physical symptoms: headache, low energy, light-headed feeling, empty stomach
3 Beginning of physical signs of hunger
4 Could eat if suggestion was made
7 Feel food in stomach
8 Stomach protrudes, beginning of mood alteration
9 Bloated, definite mood alteration
10 Definitely full: physical pain and numbness
You will likely see the best results if you don’t eat until you’re feeling about a 3. This actually means allowing yourself to feel uncomfortable for a little while. Then, eat slowly and only eat to a 6. Then stop.
If you have asked yourself these questions, and it turns out that you are not hungry then it’s time to ask yourself, “Why do I want to eat right now? What has triggered my appetite?”
Here are the three main reasons I think we eat:
- We eat breakfast at 7, lunch at 12, dinner at 6, and snacks at 10 and 4 and 8. Every day. Without thinking. Without checking if we’re hungry or not.
- We were always told to clean our plate, so we do, just out of habit. Without slowing down and allowing the body to say “Enough.”
- We choose a big portion because we’re used to it, because it fills the plate, because it’s how much you always have.
- Any other unconscious choice we make about food, like watching someone on tv having a bowl of popcorn and then craving popcorn.
- It’s a birthday, a celebration, and there’s so much great food on offer!
- It’s just sitting right there – access!
- I’m sad, I’m bored, I’m lonely…
- I’m happy, I’m celebrating…
- I’m stressed, I’m confused, I need a break…
So ask yourself, “What am I doing?” and “Who am I with?” and “What need will eating satisfy right now? See the trends and triggers and once you have identified some of your non-hungry triggers, you are set to master them!
Plan Ahead and Master Habit, Opportunity, and Emotion
Planning ahead can allow you to change your response to these non-hungry motivators. You can try doing things like:
- Bring a healthy option to gatherings and to work so you always have the healthy choice to go to
- Distract yourself with *anything* that keeps you occupied or interested, like music, hobbies, games, internet. It can help to have a list in your mind, or written down, of things you can do to distract yourself for about 10 minutes. Usually a craving will go away in that short of a time.
- Call a friend, especially if it’s an emotional trigger. Share how you feel with a person, not with food!
- Make sure you have healthy snacks in the house and turn to those when snacking seems the only way
- Give yourself limits, such as only one sweet thing from the buffet, but as much veggies as you’d like
- Sometimes a ‘fix’ is all you need, and there’s no need to ‘feast’ on your snack. For example, if you must have chocolate, can you have just one square and savour it? (Honestly, I can’t, so I just don’t have it in my house, so it is important to Know Thy Self!!)
- Find another way to treat yourself, like a massage, a bath, a good book, a movie. Find other ways to treat your friends and family too! You don’t have to feed everyone!
- Sometimes, I find that just identifying that “It was just that silly burger commercial” is all I need to take control over the signal. “I may be affected by marketing, but I am not controlled by it!” can be a very empowering idea!
- Snack on exercise! a 10 minute walk, a few minutes of an exercise DVD… a little exercise can actually reduce appetite, and has the double-bonus of burning calories/kilojoules instead of stacking them on!
In other words, just try to find some way to re-direct your energy to a more productive or healthy alternative.
What are your big non-hungry triggers? What is your plan to master them?
Non-hungry eating has been dealt with very thoroughly by Dr Rick Kausman, author of If Not Dieting, Then What who has actually trademarked the term “Non-Hungry Eating,” so if you really want to get the low-down from the pro, check out his website here.