We eat when we are hungry, that part is straightforward. We also eat when we’re sad, bored, anxious, angry, and when we’re celebrating (so many reasons tbh).
That said, oftentimes (especially if we pause and take a moment to think about it—the sole purpose of consciously consuming), true hunger for food is not one of the reasons.
Our collective pandemic experience supports this truth and so does science. Our hunger is determined by a network of hormones that signal hunger (and fullness) to our brain. Under usual circumstances, we eat food, and these hormones will relay that information to our brain, shutting off our hunger. But when we are stressed or experience difficult emotions, these hormone levels change in the direction that promotes greater hunger. Knowing this, then, it makes sense that conscience eating or mindful eating is, well, essential. So how is this done?
The first step is to be aware and check in with yourself. What is it that I am feeling right now?
Knowing what is driving our hunger allows us to address just that. Maybe we are feeling lonely and need to pick up the phone and call a friend. Maybe we are feeling restless and would benefit from a walk outdoors or an activity that increases our heart rate and expends energy. Or maybe we are just tired and need to go to sleep. Having awareness allows us to give ourselves what we are truly hungry for in that moment.
There are, of course, other benefits to mindful eating too. When we eat for hunger, we are better able to enjoy our meal. Eating slowly and consciously allows us to savor our food. How often have you finished a bag of chips while watching TV or scrolling on your phone only to look up and think, “Where did that go?” See, mindful eating is also an act of self-care. When we nourish our bodies with what is needed, we are less likely to feel heavy, bloated, and lethargic after we eat. Plus, we’re less likely to gain weight. We can use our food for proper energy, vitality, and nourishment, just as it’s intended. And when we choose to indulge, we can do that mindfully too. Doing this allows us to truly enjoy the decadence so that we feel the satisfaction of a mouth-watering meal or treat.
Remember, mindful eating is a practice. We don’t need to be perfect; it’s about balance. If you find yourself not eating what you have planned, or how you have planned it, be conscious of that too. Accept yourself with kindness and self-compassion. Doing so will usher you back to a mindful eating practice much sooner than self-judgment or self-deprecation ever will.
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