In today’s society, we eat on the run; take our meals during meetings, while carpooling, and sometimes standing in front of the fridge when deciding what to make for our meal. We also tend to eat when we are bored, tired, stress, celebrating, overwhelmed… the list goes on. We are driven by external cues and eat according to mealtimes or when instructed by a diet, or when we see food, even if we aren’t hungry. That drives the question: Do you know what hungry feels like?
Hunger is an internal cue that our body sends our brain, telling us to re-fuel. Hunger feels like a gnawing that won’t go away. It sounds like a rumble in your belly. Hunger makes you lose focus, it can change your mood, it can leave you tired and cranky. When we are depleted of fuel (aka food), our body doesn’t work at its optimal efficiency.
Most of us don’t know what hunger feels like. We are so busy letting external cues drive our eating, that we never feel the sensation of hunger. Others of us know the sensation of hunger all too well, believing that ignoring it is a sign of willpower that will help us reach our weight goal. Whether you eat for reasons other than hunger, or you ignore your hunger to reach a goal, you are doing your body, and your brain, a disservice.
Listening to our internal cues – our personal guideline for optimal health – is the key to longevity, wellness, and happiness. Only your own body can tell you what you need to nourish your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being. The key is this: Listen, acknowledge, act.
Do you feel hungry? Ask yourself if this is really hunger that I am feeling, or if I am reaching for food to fill another need. Can your attention be re-directed? If you are truly hungry, your answer will be no. If your answer is yes, I can re-direct, then food is not what you are looking for. You are not hungry.
Acknowledge your hunger. Honor it. It is the innate signal within you to sustain life. Eat, nourish yourself, find pleasure in supporting your body when it asks to be reinvigorated. Hunger is not to be ignored. It is not a sign that your willpower is strong, nor is it proof that your “diet” is working. It is a signal for nourishment. Listen to it and acknowledge it. And then you must also acknowledge the external cues that drive you to eat when hunger is not what you are experiencing. Food may make the feelings of boredom, loneliness, or stress disappear momentarily, but after the food is gone, the feelings remain, and may even be exacerbated by guilt and failure associated with overeating.
Act in the moment. Fuel your body when it is hungry. Address the emotions that trigger you to reach for food and redirect them elsewhere – to a walk, to yoga, to a hobby, to a phone call, to a friend. Or, better yet, address those emotions and meet your needs – reach out for help, journal your feelings, reconnect with others.
Practice. Pay attention. Learn to listen to your body rather than the barrage of fear-filled health tips plaguing social media and our water cooler chats. The next time you mindlessly reach for food, ask yourself, “Is this what I truly need?”
Are you listening?