This is Part 1 of a two-part series. Check back next week for Part 2.
There are so many pills, potions, plans, and even procedures(!) out there designed to help us feel less hungry, based on the premise that if we are less hungry, we will eat less and therefore lose weight…it makes sense, right?! Well, kind of, but not really. You see, hunger is just one of many reasons why people choose to eat. And for people who struggle with overeating hunger might not even be close to the top of the list.
Even those of us who have a pretty good relationship with food might find that we eat for reasons other than hunger at times. See if you can relate to any of the following:
Emotional Avoidance: Boredom, stress, loneliness, anxiety, sadness…These are emotions that everybody experiences from time to time, but they are also the typical emotions that we might find ourselves eating in order to avoid, or to at least ease their intensity. Is there anyone out there who hasn’t ever had a bad day and told themselves they deserve a reward, usually in the form of chocolate or some other treat?!
Sensory Cues: Otherwise known as ‘I ate it because it was there…’! You know those times when you know you’re not hungry, but as you go to order your take-away coffee you see that tasty-looking muffin on the counter and just have to have one?! That. The visual cue is what drives you to eat in that moment, similarly if you are walking past a bakery and you get a whiff of that delicious smell you might be tempted to pop in for a pastry. You are not hungry but as soon as those senses are stimulated all of a sudden you might decide to eat something anyway.
Habit: Much of what we eat and when is attributable to habit, association or conditioning. You might find that you always buy a chocolate bar when you fill up for petrol, or you might feel as though you can’t see a movie without eating popcorn or a choc-top, or you might have pizza every Friday because that’s just what you’ve always done. Very little thought or consideration goes into the decision to eat these foods at these times because it is done almost automatically, which usually means the eating is very mindless.
The Clock: Along the same lines as due to habit, oftentimes we eat according to the clock. “It’s 1pm, therefore it’s time for lunch”; “it’s 4pm and that’s when I have a snack with the kids”; “it’s been 3 hours since I last ate and I read somewhere that you have to eat every 3 hours to keep your metabolism going” etc etc. This type of eating is very common and often our schedules dictate that we have to eat according to the clock to some degree, but this can also result in mindless, ‘non-hungry’ eating as we are not paying any attention to our body’s signals.
Fear of Hunger: Sometimes people eat to avoid feeling hungry altogether as they find hunger unpleasant, uncomfortable or anxiety-provoking, or they might fear that if they get hungry later they might not be in a position where it’s convenient or possible to access food. For these people, eating is almost 100% not driven by hunger.
All-or-Nothing Thinking: You know those days where you have intentions to “be good” (we’ll talk more about that in another post!) but all of a sudden you have eaten more than you planned or have eaten something “bad”? That’s when all-or-nothing thinking can drive you to keep eating even though you’re not hungry. “Well I’ve stuffed up now so I might as well keep going and start again tomorrow!” You know what I’m talking about. We might also say that dieting is the cause of this type of non-hungry eating! That’s right people, dieting often makes you eat more, not less…
There are plenty more reasons why people eat when they’re not hungry: food tastes good; it’s Christmas/my birthday; my friend baked a cake, it would be rude not to have some…the list goes on and on! So what do we do about this? How do we break this cycle of mindless, unintuitive eating? That’s the topic of next week’s post, so make sure you check back here then.
What reasons (other than hunger) do you eat for? What proportion of your eating is actually hunger-driven?