Eating is an essential part of life, but it can be a source of great happiness or huge guilt. You have to eat to survive and to fuel yourself, but if you eat too much, it can lead to weight gain as well as other health issues. Many holidays, events, and social activities are centered around eating. People show love for you by cooking your favorite meal or baking you a special treat. When you were little and fell, chances are you got a hug and an ice cream cone to help you “feel better”.
You might eat when you’re bored, tired, happy, sad, or just because it’s dinner time. You might get the urge to eat because of a commercial, a billboard, the smell of pizza in the oven, or because you see a plate of freshly baked cookies on the counter.
So, with so many reasons–and more–to eat, how do you know if you’re hungry or just eating to satisfy some other need? It can be tricky, but the first step is to stop in your tracks. Ask yourself if you’re really hungry. Your first answer might be, “Yes, of course.” But when you really take a moment or two to pause and to breathe, you might notice that your quest to eat is motivated by something else. Close your eyes and focus on your inhale and exhale, breathing in and out through your nose. Now, start to notice that feeling you associated with hunger. Is it really hunger or is it something else? Rate your hunger on a scale of one to ten.
If it’s less than three or four hours since the last time you ate, drink a glass of water. I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but it’s easy to confuse hunger for thirst. Our bodies are 60% water, and that means water is vital to all our bodily functions. So, drinking that glass of water isn’t just a diversion, it might be the cure to what you think is really hunger. Sometimes, we think we’re hungry when we’re bored or just need a break from what we’re doing. Take a short walk, do some light stretching, call a friend, or find another enjoyable activity. Give yourself 20 minutes, and then notice the sensations in your body again. Is the “hunger” still there? Did it change in any way? Noticing is the first step to becoming aware of what true hunger is.
Are you feeling stressed from work or are you upset about something? Come back to your breath. Gently close your eyes and notice all the sensations. You might want to sit and breathe for a few minutes or you might want to write about your feelings or get out some colored pencils or markers and draw a picture. Creativity can be a wonderful outlet for your emotions.
OK, what if it’s really mealtime, but you’re not making great choices? Notice what’s going on right before you eat. Were you sitting in traffic, involved in a project, or rushing around from one activity to another? This is the perfect time to give yourself just two minutes to breathe. Maybe sit in the car for an extra couple of minutes or go sit in the bathroom to give yourself a few quiet moments to pause and ground your energy before preparing your meal.
To get in touch with how you’re really feeling before you eat, check out my Mindful Eating Meditation.
And, then when you do eat, are you rushing through your meal or are you enjoying your food? Take a breath or two before you dig in (are you noticing a relationship between breathing and eating mindfully?)
Chew slowly — 30 to 40 times per mouthful. And then pause between mouthfuls. Eating slowly helps us savor what we eat. It can take about 20 minutes for the message to get to our brains that we’ve had enough to eat. If you wolf down your meal, you might not notice that you’ve had enough until you’ve had way more than you really need. This can lead to feeling bloated and lethargic–not to mention all the unneeded extra calories.
Want a little more guidance? Schedule a free Health Goals Conversation with me.