How do you decide when to eat?
By the clock, as in “it’s noon, so it’s lunch time”? When you see food that looks good? How about because you feel the physical sensation of hunger?
When we were babies, we felt hunger, cried, and we were fed. We only ate in response to our bodies’ hunger signals. We also automatically stopped eating when our body had enough food to meet its physical needs.
Our bodies are amazing. They are brilliant! They actually know exactly how much food we need. That’s why, if we listen, our bodies will tell us when to start eating and when to stop.
The problem is that most people, and pretty much everyone who is overweight, stopped listening to their body’s signals ages ago. They eat at prescribed times, and keep eating until their plate is empty, even if their body only needed half that amount. They eat because they walked into a shop for a cup of coffee, but those chocolate croissants just looked too good to pass up. They eat because there is free food available at a store, party, reception, you name it.
In my Facebook group Ditch the Diet Tribe, I’m currently leading members in a Freedom from Emotional Eating Challenge. I’m teaching people to understand their urge to overeat and eliminate that desire by treating the problem that is causing them to overeat in the first place.
I asked the group “What do you choose to eat when you want food but aren’t hungry?” I was expecting to hear those foods people find irresistible: chocolate, candy, cookies, chips. Instead, I got responses like, cut up veggies, nuts, cheese and crackers, peanut butter on celery or apples.
I realized that people were substituting healthier foods for unhealthy ones. That is generally a good thing. The problem is that doing this may improve our nutrition and slow down weight gain, but it won’t help most people lose weight. That’s because when we eat and are not hungry, our body doesn’t need the food. It doesn’t need the cupcake, but it also doesn’t need the carrot sticks and hummus either. Maybe if you wait a couple of hours and feel hunger pangs your body will put that food to work right away. But not when you aren’t hungry.
The Bottom Line
Whenever you eat in response to anything other than your body’s hunger cues, you are overeating. You are giving your body food it doesn’t need. If it doesn’t need it for energy, it will store it for the future. Guess how. Yup, as fat.
Breaking our bad eating habits and learning new good ones is hard work. It requires us to be conscious of what we’re doing so that we notice our body’s hunger and fullness signals. Even more difficult, it requires us to question why we want to eat if we’re not hungry. That often involves digging deep into our emotions and our habits and shining a light into our lives.
The participants in my challenge are doing great work, and I didn’t want to be discouraging when I saw their answers. But really, it is like trying to swim across the lake by doing the doggie paddle and stopping to rest on an island every time you get tired. The doggie paddle won’t get you across the lake. You need to learn how to swim to do that.
To be able to lose weight and keep it off without diets and deprivation (which don’t work anyway), you need to learn how to eat according to your body’s wise signals. Only then will you be eating the precise amount of food needed to run that magnificent machine of yours. When you do that, you naturally lose your excess fat and it stays off.
If you want to learn how to end your desire to eat when you aren’t hungry and lose your excess weight, check out the ways in which you can work with me here.