Have you ever found yourself eating and wondering why you are eating it? Chances are, it is not always because you are hungry.
The Lark DPP check-in suggested asking yourself, every so often, “Why am I eating this?” Here is why the answer to that simple question is so important and how you can use it to your advantage for weight loss and diabetes prevention.
Why Should You Eat Only When You Are Hungry?
The obvious assumption is that people eat because they are hungry, but that is not always the case. Get in the habit of asking yourself why you are eating, and you may be surprised how often that is not the reason why you are eating.
Eating for other reasons every so often is not a problem, but it can become one if it becomes regular. That is because your body is smart. Hunger is a sign that your body wants and (before things get complicated) needs food. Eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full is a way to eat the “right” amount of food.
Eating when you are not hungry leads to eating more than your body needs. That is a recipe for weight gain, and all that comes with it, such as having less energy, and higher blood sugar and diabetes risk. If you tend to eat for reasons other than hunger, getting away from that habit can let you lose weight more easily.
Why People May Eat Aside from Being Hungry
There are many reasons why people might eat when they are not hungry. Here are a few common ones.
Stress or Other Emotional Eating
A bad day at work, feeling too busy, a fight with a friend, worrying about money…all these are common triggers for stress or emotional eating. Many people turn to food when confused, stressed, sad, or angry. Food really can relieve those feelings, but only momentarily. Afterwards, the feelings come back, and problems have not been solved. The only thing that has really changed is that now there is a lot of unneeded food, usually sugary, starchy, and/or fatty high-calorie food, inside of you.
Some people eat just because it is something to do. They may be home alone without chores to do, at work in front of a screen without much interesting work to complete, or anywhere else that is not stimulating. Snacking on ready-to-eat foods, preparing and eating meal or snack, and going out to eat for lack of anything to do can certainly relieve boredom, but there must be a better way!
External cues can lead to eating out of habit. For example, a break at work could trigger munching a bag of cookies, sitting down to check email may be paired with sipping a bottle of soda, and – a common one – watching TV can be paired with chips and dips.
Sometimes, food just tastes good. Often, temptation puts itself right in your face. There may be leftovers in the fridge, fresh-baked goods in a meeting, a drive-through on your route, or candy on the receptionist’s desk. You may not have been thinking about food before you saw it, but suddenly, you want it.
There may be times when you crave a specific food that is not within reach; for example, it could be a pizza that you would need to order, or mac and cheese that you would need to cook. It can take effort to resist those temptations, too, but it is easier than if the pizza is on the counter or the mac and cheese is in the fridge. For that reason, it is a good idea to keep as few less-healthy foods on hand as possible.
Alternatives to Eating
If you are not hungry, eating is not the solution. After figuring out why you are eating, the trick is to find a solution that addresses that reason. Examples of alternatives to eating include the following.
- Pinpoint your sources of stress or other emotions and brainstorm what you can do about them.
- Phone a friend or family member if you are lonely while at home, or go visit them or invite them over if they are close by.
- Find something to do, such as blogging, surfing the net, sewing, scrapbooking, knitting, gardening, walking, or singing.
- Take up a new hobby or join a club, gym, or sports team so you have something to do and meet people.
- Avoiding tempting food, such as by taking a different route in the car, not walking by the break room or receptionist’s desk, sitting far from the food table at meetings, and placing leftovers in closed containers at the back of the fridge so you do not accidentally see them.
- Have low-calorie foods available so you can eat them instead of higher-calorie foods when you have the desire to munch.
What If You Are Always Hungry?
If you always seem to be eating because you always seem to be hungry, there are some strategies to reduce hunger.
- Eat more low-calorie foods, such as vegetables, so you can fill up without getting more calories than you need.
- Focus on fiber and protein, which are filling nutrients that stave off hunger for longer. High-fiber foods include vegetables, fruit, whole grains, while nutritious sources of protein include fish, eggs, chicken, and tofu and other soy products. Beans and nuts have both protein and fiber.
- Limit foods high in refined sugars and starches, since they can lead to hunger sooner.
- Get enough sleep, since sleep deprivation can lead to increased hunger.
- Ask your doctor if you might have low blood sugar.
It takes a lot of practice to get into the habit of asking why you are reaching for food. With bits of advice, reminders, and motivation, along with logging and tracking features, Lark DPP can help you build this and other health habits that can assist with weight loss and lower risk for type 2 diabetes. Small steps can lead to big gains that can last a lifetime.