Bestselling author Geneen Roth says “anytime we eat when we’re not hungry or continue to eat when we’re full, the food we’re putting into our mouth has no connection to the body.” When we eat in response to situations other than hunger, we’re actually trying to feed an emotional hunger that will not be satisfied with a full belly, but if done habitually, could negatively impact our health.
What are some of the situations I’m talking about? Here are a few and how they usually play out:
Eating after a long day - You’re sitting in front of the television to numb out, inserting one potato chip after another or spoonful after spoonful of ice cream into your mouth. You barely see what’s going in or taste what’s going down and you usually stop when your favorite show is over, or the container or bag is empty.
Not only are you not paying attention to what you’re eating when you eat while mesmerized on something else, like the TV or computer, you’re more likely to eat unhealthy foods that can pack on the pounds. How often do we make ourselves a nice tossed salad and sit down to watch a movie? In addition, a long-term study that tracked over seventeen thousand Canadians ages 18-90 found a positive correlation between regular length of sitting time and mortality due to cardiovascular disease and cancers. Combine extended bouts of sitting with eating unhealthy foods and you can understand how the risk for disease can increase.
Eating in response to stress, boredom, or sadness - The healthiest and most effective way to deal with our emotions is to bring them up to the surface and feel them. Yet, many of us have are uncomfortable either expressing our emotions, or spending time with them so we’ll find ways to divert them. Eating in response to our emotions enables us to suppress them - we stuff them further down as we fill ourselves with food. I understand this all too well because I’ve been there many times. The obvious consequences are that we don’t heal from the emotional trauma and we add potential physical stress to the body with excess food. As Robert Frost said, “The best way out is always through.” When we experience our emotions head on rather than numbing or packing them away, we’ll emerge stronger and wiser.
Eating for hunger, but not paying attention - Okay, this one involves hunger and I am absolutely guilty of doing this. Many days after my yoga class, I will eat an apple or drink a smoothie on the drive home. Am I paying attention to the apple? Not completely because I have to focus on driving, which means I’m missing out on the juiciness, sweetness, crispness, beauty, and smell of the apple. Even though I may be hungry, I’m not receiving the full benefit from the food I’m eating and I may later forget that I even ate it.
If you frequently eat your meals while surfing the net or reading the newspaper, you may also lose track of what you’ve eaten and miss out on the enjoyment. What’s interesting is that when I’m home and I cut up an apple into wedges and eat it that way, I often don’t even need to eat the entire apple. The few pieces that I do eat are enough. To me, this says that when you’re more in tune with what you’re eating, you instinctively know when enough is enough.
If you treat eating as an event in and of itself, eat when hungry, eat slowly, and follow the cues of your body, you’re less likely to use food as something other than the pleasure and nourishment it’s meant to be.
Image courtesy of Ambro