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Before the Bite: Am I Really Hungry?

When we think about eating and why we eat, we often focus on the fundamental principles of providing our bodies with the “fuel” that we need to survive. But what other reasons might be behind our desire to eat? Most people eat for a host of reasons, both good and bad.

If you’re trying to lose weight, one helpful practice is to examine your motivation when you have the desire to eat. Here are some questions that will help you clarify your motivation before you take your first bite.

Am I truly hungry?

Is my body asking for nourishment or is something else going on? Is this a craving that will pass, or genuine hunger? Are there other influences at work, such as other people around me who are eating?

Become mindful of your physical hunger cues. How long has it been since you last ate? How long is it until your next planned meal or snack? If you aren’t truly hungry, ask yourself, “What do I need right now other than food?”

Am I thirsty?

Sometimes what your body needs is a drink of water not a snack. Being dehydrated can masquerade as hunger. Some symptoms, such as headaches, lightheadedness or the inability to concentrate, are similar to those of hunger.

Am I tired?

If your energy fades, you might be tempted to eat something to boost it. Instead, you may simply be tired and need to rest. Spend a few minutes relaxing, or, if possible, take a nap. If this happens a lot, you may need to get more sleep at night.

Am I sad, stressed out, bored, or angry?

In other words, do I want to eat because I’m emotionally uncomfortable? Many people use food as a coping mechanism, rather than facing emotional issues or stress points, but food can never solve personal problems.

If your emotions make you to want to eat, draw up a list of ways to process those emotions without using food. Some examples include practicing meditation or guided relaxation, taking a short walk, watching funny cat videos online, or journaling about your feelings.

Approach the process of learning about your motivations to eat with curiosity, not with a judgmental attitude or feelings of guilt or shame. Begin to develop a friendly relationship with your emotions and with food. One way to become more mindful about eating is to use a food journal to explore your feelings, and to record how you feel both physically / emotionally before and after you eat.

Understanding the motivation behind why we’re eating can help you stop overeating or binging, develop a healthy relationship to food, and lose weight. Lasting weight loss takes time, and developing a healthy relationship not only with food but also with your emotions is essential to long-term success.

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