This was published as my Holistic Outlook column in The Times Herald Record.
While helping clients achieve healthy eating for more than 20 years, I have come to realize a rather strange fact: we are terrified of being hungry.
You may not consciously think about it that way, but I consistently find that part of the reason that people eat constantly is that somewhere deep inside, left over from when they were helpless children, is a fear of starving.
In fact, many people, certainly as adults, have never experienced hunger at all, as they are always eating “preventively”.
To help my clients tune in to when, and whether, they actually need food, I teach them these steps:
- Sit with your feet on the ground and your hands on your knees. Close your eyes, and relax your neck and shoulders, sitting with your spine relatively straight. Take 4 deep, slow, even breaths in and out through your nose.
- Do a “check in” with yourself. What are you feeling? Are you bored? Tired? Cranky? Worried? Excited? Restless? Irritable? Depressed? Is this feeling actually hunger, or not? Whatever you’re feeling, name it for yourself and acknowledge it. Notice if this is actually hunger (as in: my belly is empty or rumbling, my blood sugar feels low, I need nourishment!), or if your impulse to eat is a response to another feeling.
- Now ask yourself if, given what you’re feeling, is food truly what you need? If the answer is no, can you choose not to eat? Is there something else you can do instead to support yourself in this moment?
Here’s the good news: even if you recognize you’re not hungry and you eat anyhow, as will happen at least some of the time, your relationship to food, to eating, and to yourself, will all start to change if you make this “check in” a regular practice. It’s even more helpful if you get yourself a small journal and jot down your feelings and your thoughts about them, each time, throughout the day. Doing this little exercise regularly often helps people to start seeing food as nourishment, and not a response to every feeling they have.
Of course, if your stomach is rumbling, you’re feeling light-headed, you can’t focus, or you have other signs of low blood sugar, please eat! But if you have none of those symptoms, maybe you’re not as hungry as you think.
- Eat the best quality freshest food you can find. Try a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) or farm stands for veggies, plus wild caught fish, free range chicken and eggs, or grass fed meat. Then add healthy fat for better satiety.
- Eat consciously and slowly. Chew each bite thoroughly.
- Drink between meals, not with your food.
You shouldn’t be hungry at all between meals if you are eating in balance and avoiding food sensitivities. So ask yourself: Am I really hungry, or am I feeling something else? Learning to discern when it’s truly hunger will empower you to nourish yourself more wisely.
For a humorous take on this same subject, see my favorite comedian Louis C.K.’s monologue on Saturday Night Live, just about a minute in ==> here