On average, humans make over 200 different food decisions each day — and many of them without pause for actual thought.
Whether you choose to eat dessert, have a snack before dinner, or finish off the bottle of wine, the fact is that up to 80 per cent of the eating we do is “non-hungry” eating. In other words, eating for eating’s sake.
Here are some of the triggers lurking beneath the surface of hunger.
The relationship we have with our family or friends is relatively simple compared with the one we have with food. At times, we’re in control, but then we break down and indulge in eating behaviours that we know are not good for us.
Using large plates, eating too fast or eating while distracted (with a device in one hand) are indeed some of the unhealthy habits we need to break, however we also live in an environment, that in many ways, discourages healthy eating. We have been convinced that the answer to almost any problem is food. Want to lose weight? Eat diet food. Don’t have time? Our food will save time. Want to save money? Buy the two for one deal.
AM I REALLY HUNGRY?
You’ve heard it before: “Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full.” If you’ve become distanced from your true hunger signals, remind yourself what real hunger feels like. Some signs that indicate hunger are a growling stomach and/or light-headedness.
If you find yourself feeling what you perceive to be hunger pains, take a few moments to rate the hunger on a scale of 1–10, with 1 being low hunger and 10 being very hungry. If what you are feeling is real hunger, the feeling will increase gradually. The trick is not to wait until the hunger reaches 10 on the scale. If you do, you are more likely to binge.
Related: Simple ways to eat more mindfully
IDENTIFY THE EATING TRIGGERS
One of the best ways to practice mindful eating is to become aware of your eating triggers. For example do you eat in response to the environment (passing by the bakery), or do you eat in response to emotions (“I’ll finish the entire tub of ice-cream”), or do you have the “clean plate” syndrome (picking at the kids’ leftovers)? Inevitably eating triggers happen. However, when they strike, it is important to recognise them for what they are and think abut how you can override them.
Try keeping a food journal for one week that records what and when you eat, as well as what stressors, thoughts or emotions you identify as you eat. There a plethora of food recording apps to download, such as My Fitness Pal or Easy Diet Diary. After a few weeks you should begin to identify patterns fairly quickly. Once you are aware of these triggers, you can then take the time to plan alternative activities to eating before the situation arises again.
This is an amended excerpt from Kathleen’s book What’s Eating You?- available to download here.