There are many reasons why people eat – apart from the one essential reason, which is to satisfy your physical need for nourishment, so you can live as healthy and robust a life as possible. Most ‘normal’ eaters eat for reasons other than physical hunger, but they don’t do it all the time.
I thought I’d take a look at a few of the broad reasons why people typically overeat. Perhaps over the next week, every time you eat (and you’re not hungry) you could ask yourself if any of these applies. It will help to write them down, so after a week you can see if there’s a pattern.
- Perhaps you’ve had a long day at work
- Or you’ve had a difficult conversation with someone
- Maybe you’ve done an intense and hard workout
- Or struggled through a social/work event you didn’t want to go to
If you think reward is one of the main reasons you eat when you’re not hungry, it will help to bring to mind the specific situations you get caught up in. Then make a list of a few things you could do to reward yourself that don’t involve food.
When you’re rebalancing your relationship with food the mindfulness way, it’s important to not push or drive yourself. You don’t have to choose something else – just make room for the possibility that there are other ways to reward yourself. See if you might be willing to try one while continuing to give yourself unconditional permission to eat whatever you like.
Food is pleasurable! It’s meant to be! We’re wired that way. If it wasn’t pleasurable we wouldn’t do it, and we’d die. Same with sex. But if you’re filling your life’s pleasure quota with food, then things are out of balance.
It could be that you need to build other ways of having fun into your life. Food can act as novelty, pleasure and/or excitement in one’s life.
I hear again and again from clients ‘But I like the taste!’ Yes, you like the taste, I do too, but does that mean you need to keep tasting it? I like massages, but I don’t have them all day long! You’re focusing on your sense of taste. You have 4 other senses you can be using for pleasure.
Again, make a list of things you can do that are pleasurable and don’t involve food. Think of all your other senses: sight, sound, smell, touch. Building pleasurable experiences into your day through mindfulness techniques can have a big impact – you’d be surprised. One client comes to mind: when she went for a walk, she took in the beauty around her – really saw it; she smelled the moist soil underfoot and crushed leaves in her hand to smell; she listened to the birds, the sound of her footsteps – I remember her clearly saying her day was so much richer; her enjoyment level went up a good few notches.
Relief from discomfort
This is a big one for many. All animals seek comfort over discomfort – it’s normal. But being human in this world brings many many opportunities for discomfort! Generally it’s for emotional discomfort that we turn to food.
If this is a big one for you, then learning how to be with your difficult emotions is really going to make a huge difference to your relationship with food. Just imagine if you could feel your anger, or sadness, or grief, or hurt, or fear without food you’re not hungry for!
This takes time to learn, and there are ups and downs with it. Most ‘normal’ eaters will at times eat to relieve emotional discomfort. I still do sometimes too. But it isn’t the way I deal with emotions any more, so it’s not problematic. Learning and practising mindfulness techniques will really help build that emotional tolerance.
I’d love to know what you learn about your eating patterns over the next week. Feel free to let me know.