No diet can truly yield optimal results when you are eating for reasons other than hunger. Based on my own experience of losing one hundred forty-five pounds, overcoming decades of compulsive eating, bulimia, and binge eating, and from working with hundreds of clients over the last five years, I've compiled a "Top Ten" list of the reasons people eat when it doesn't serve them well to do so.
The purpose of the list is for you to be aware of eating behaviors that may be getting in the way of your success. The first step to freedom is realizing there is a problem. See if you recognize the following behaviors in the way you eat.
10. Eating Out of Boredom
We look for a way to occupy time when we don't have passions, hobbies or healthy pursuits in our lives. We fill in the gap with mindless eating. I would say procrastination falls in this category, too. We eat to put off starting something we don't want to do.
9. Because Others are Eating
Food can be social (not always a bad thing), but if you are not truly hungry, or often choose to eat just because others are, your food intake probably isn't right for you and you are not likely to reach your goals. Nutrition needs are very individual. If you know that you don't do well moderating when eating certain things (like sweeteners), but you see others that don't have the same issue, trying over and over to incorporate it in your diet in the same way will lead to major frustration. Not all things that are "keto" are beneficial to all people.
8. Because it Tastes Good
Sometimes we are perfectly satisfied and don't need anything to eat, but we want it anyway because it tastes good. We are looking for food to create a "mouth party" for ourselves. True hunger can be satisfied with simple, basic food. If beef or eggs don't sound appealing and you instead "feel the need" for something crunchy or sweet or creamy, it is not true hunger. It is an emotional event. This can cause you to compulsively overeat, too. The party doesn't stop until it's all gone! Maybe you started genuinely hungry, but it "indulging" quickly turns into eating too much.
7. Eating by the Clock
Do we really think the entire world gets hungry at the same time? Does the lunch rush in a restaurant happen because we all legitimately need food right then? Must we all eat because it's noon? The truth is that we train our body to signal it's meal time with a growling stomach by repeatedly eating at certain times. This type of stomach growl does not indicate real hunger. Like the ringing of a dinner bell, it's just your body reminding you that you usually eat at that time. The ringing bell doesn't mean you are hungry; it's only a reminder of your schedule.
6. Physical Triggers
When we smell food or see pictures, billboards, or posts containing food or recipes, we often start to feel hungry or compelled to eat. We can know it isn't real hunger because absent the trigger, the hungry feeling would not exist.
5. Hormonal Dysfunction
Did you know we actually have built in hunger/full hormonal reflexes? Ghrelin tells us we are hungry. Leptin tells us we are full. When we repeatedly ignore these natural signals for any of the other reasons listed here, those hormones become dysregulated. Our body doesn't recognize them anymore, and we don't really know if we are hungry or full.
Eating is sometimes very closely tied to specific times, places, activities, or events. We have so often eaten in these situations that we cannot picture the activity or being in a certain place without eating, regardless of actual hunger. Think of having popcorn at a movie theater. We can have a full lunch and then go to see a movie. We don't need to eat a thing. We can often go two hours without eating at home, but we may feel compelled to eat during the movie simply because it's what we always do. This is habit, not true hunger.
3. Euphoric Recall
Think "food fantasy." We remember the taste or eating experience with such pleasure that it sparks the extreme desire to have it again. Spoiler alert: it's always a let down. The taste is never as good as the memory. It's not worth it.
2. Self Sabotage
We know we're eating the wrong things or for the wrong reasons, but we continue to do it even when we know there will be consequences. This one can be complex, but in short, it's related to fear of what might change if we change. For some, losing weight and/or getting healthy comes with a lot of unknowns. We will almost certainly be more social, for example. We may hate our loneliness, but we know more exposure to people means the possibility of awkwardness, embarrassment, or hurt. We continue in our destructive eating behavior because the disordered world we live in feels safer than the unknown future that comes with positive change.
1. Self Soothing
This often begins in childhood. We are sad and someone feeds us. We are lonely and we discover food makes us feel better. We go through trauma or pain and food feels like a friend. When we use food in this way, as a "band aid' each time we experience tough emotions, it becomes ingrained in our neuro pathways as the easiest solution. When we are sad, our brain actually signals what feels like hunger. After all, we have trained it that the solution is food. Make the stomach growl, eat the food, stop the sadness. Problem solved. The issue here is that while food may keep us from dealing with our negative emotions, it doesn't take them away. We get used to stuffing the feelings down, and at some point in our life they absolutely will come back up and overwhelm us.
I hope this list has been meaningful to you. Remember, food is meant to be enjoyed. Our many different taste buds are proof of that. It's supposed to be pleasurable. The problems come in when we use food as a substitute for recognizing and addressing our true needs. We use it harmfully, and it takes its toll on our mind, body, and overall health.
If you are struggling with any of these issues, coaching may help. One-on-One coaching or joining the Food Addiction Group can help you work through any issues that may keep you feeling chained to the dinner table.