Decoding Hunger – Real or Emotional?

Has eating become a hobby or a recreational activity? Do you know the difference between real hunger cues and emotional cues to eat? We know that eating is required for life but it has become more complicated for many, myself included.

I grew up with two sets of grandparents that among other ways, showed love with food. Special meals and treats on the regular. Honestly, I do the same with my children and grandchildren without thinking.

Are you a member of the clean plate club? Meaning, you were taught to eat everything on your plate because “we don’t waste food.”  Were you guilted into eating more than you wanted to? When I was very young, one of my grandmothers used to say I must not like what she made if I didn’t clean my plate or ask for a second helping.

Our elders meant no harm and neither do we if we are perpetuating the cycle in some way. However, the first step is to recognize it. God made us with bodies that need to be fueled regularly and He knew it would become the social and creative outlet that it is. No only that, but breaking bread together is a connection between people and Jesus modeled this by breaking bread with his disciples and even in feeding his followers. Remember the story of Jesus multiplying the bread and fish to feed thousands?

I tend to be an all or nothing person, especially things I have trouble with. One example. I like trail mix and it is a good, high calorie, nutrient dense food for hiking. However, I cannot have it any other time unless I’m burning massive calories climbing  hills, carrying all my gear in my backpack. To avoid over-consumption, I do not buy trail mix. I do not keep it in the house.

Unfortunately, if we have trouble with food consumption, it cannot be an all or nothing situation. We must eat and the trick is to eat moderately and in amounts suitable for our individual caloric needs.

Emotional eating could be a response to anger, stress or boredom. You might feel the need to self soothe and a yummy treat is calling your name. Or perhaps you are very distracted which makes it easy to overlook emotional hunger and confuse it with real hunger. In essence, you are out of touch with your body.

What is the solution? Slow down. Assess your hunger. Give yourself a few minutes to determine if your hunger is real before acting on it. Take a break and do something soothing or comforting. In other words, don’t grab the bag of chips and continue working on the computer as you mindlessly munch while your brain is engaged in something else.

Listen to your body and get to know it’s cues. This is called intuitive eating and can take time to develop. Perhaps go for a short walk and see if you’re still “hungry” when you return. Exercise, even in small doses, has a profound impact on mental and emotional health (as well as physical, of course.)

In closing, you and your body should know each other well and listen to each other for healthy living. Resist the urge to allow your environment (and the perceived urgent) to come between you and your body.

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