I recently read an article “Why Only Eating When You’re Hungry Is Terrible Diet Advice”. It was a well written article by a highly-qualified professional. The author made some valid points. Food is more than just fuel. We eat for many different reasons. We shouldn’t feel bad about some of the food choices we make. In order to develop long-term eating habits that last, there should be room for treats along the way. We only have one life to live so we might as well enjoy all the things we love without feeling guilty afterwards right?
The only problem I had with the article was that I felt like the author got a little too technical with her approach. Sometimes, less is more. So I thought I would write an article based off of my own perspective on how I feel about the topic. I tried simplifying in the best way that I could. So let’s get to it!
It’s not that I don’t support the idea of eating only when you’re hungry; I just think that most people don’t know what true hunger feels like. Try fasting for 16 hours a day in the middle of the summer without food or water for a month during Ramadan and then come to talk to me about hunger. Somewhere between our childhood and adulthood we lost our ability to decipher what that feeling really is. Do me a favor and take a moment and think for a second. Think to yourself about that one time you went hours without food due to a situation that was beyond your control; that natural, physical feeling, you know, when your stomach growls? That is what I’m talking about. That’s called “stomach hunger” and it’s our body’s response to the absence of food.
But you already knew that right?
Well, far too often we let our senses stimulate our appetite and our mind gets the best of us. We mistake cravings for hunger and we end up playing what I like to call “The Hunger Games”. There are plenty of false-flags to consider. Remember “eye hunger” the next time you walk past a tray of desserts your coworker left for your department at work. Think about” nose hunger” the next time you walk into the cafeteria and catch the smell of bacon in the air even though you just had breakfast. There is “heart hunger” often referred to as emotional eating and “mind-hunger” like the thought about what you’ll be having for dinner later. A common symptom of “cellular hunger” is dehydration or a lack of energy, especially in the morning. Try drinking a cup of water with a pinch of salt to help rehydrate yourself and to replenish lost electrolytes. The point I’m trying to make is that these are not hunger cues, they are temptations influenced by the environment around you. Becoming fully aware of our brain’s response to food can go a long way in taking back control of your eating habits.
So what is the best way to practice mindful eating?
Like with everything in life, getting into the habit of controlling your food desires will take some effort on your part. I’m not going to sugar-coat it. This will be pretty hard in the beginning. Anyone who tells you that it’s easy isn’t telling you the truth. After all these years of “picking”, it will take some time to train your body. The key is not to give up. If you cheat along the way, don’t take that as a sign that you’re not strong enough, just continue on with your approach. Trust me, it will get easier.
Here are a few tips to get started:
- Before you reach for that cookie or that piece of cake that has been “staring” at you for the last five minutes. Try drinking a cup of water first, wait a few minutes and see how you feel. Chances are the desire will pass.
- Is your stomach growling? Do you feel your body telling you to eat? Focus on your hunger cues and remember the false-flags we discussed earlier.
- Are you “hungry” when you look at that piece of cheesecake but less satisfied thinking about an apple with peanut butter? Chances are you’re not really hungry.
- If you’re truly hungry and in need of a snack, try reaching for an apple, a whole-grain option, or a protein-packed option. Fiber and protein promote satiety and can help you feel more satisfied.
Finally, I recommend reviewing your diet before getting started to ensure that you’re giving yourself the best chance to succeed. A well-balanced diet founded on whole, nutritious foods not only is the best way to suppress hunger effectively, it also is an effective way to prevent overeating, to provide key nutrients for the body, to boost immunity, and to reduce the risk of certain diseases. It even allows for less nutritious options along the way, so you can have your cake and eat it too.