We all eat for lots of different reasons and hunger is just one of them. You might eat when you’re upset or angry – this is often referred to as ‘emotional’ eating.
Perhaps you eat when you’re bored or procrastinating to take your mind and focus off the things you actually should be doing. Or you feel like eating something just because you see someone else eating it or you see an ad on TV for it – suddenly you have a major craving for subway!
A little non-hungry eating is absolutely normal and is of no consequence in the overall scheme of things. In fact it can be positive and joyful. Just think of savouring a slice of birthday cake or taking the kids for a gelato at the beach on the weekend. These occasions are not about satisfying hunger. Rather they are about recognising that food is more than the nutrients it contains. We can eat healthily while enjoying such non-hungry eating events, provided they don’t happen too often.
The first step in knowing whether non-hungry eating is a problem for you is to recognise how often you do it. So just for one day, count how many times you go to eat when your not actually hungry. You may be walking past the fridge and just happen to open it and start eating something for the sake of it. Or you might walk past your favourite bakery and buy something because the smell makes you suddenly feel like you needed it. You may find that you resist actually eating the food, simply by being more aware, but regardless write it down so that you start to see your own patterns of eating and your susceptibility to external cues to eat.
As I discussed this week with Carissa, (our lovely nutritionist) writing a food diary is a great way to stop the ‘non-hungry eating’. We also discussed snacking and how ‘healthy’ snacking plays a vital role in our daily nutrition. See video here.
To recognise non-hungry eating think of your hunger on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is utterly ravenous and 10 completely stuffed. Number 5 is when you can’t feel food in your stomach, but neither do you feel hungry yet.
Today every time you are thinking about eating stop and ask yourself which number you are on. If you are a 5 or above this is non-hungry eating. The second step is to then identify why you want to eat. Is it a legitimate joyful eating occasion or would some other activity actually be better to fulfil your need? Maybe a cup of herbal tea, maybe a glass of water. Maybe some fresh air. Try a few different tips and see if you can find something that works for you.