Why do we eat?

Sunday, 7 February 2016 - 1:01pm

We’ve all experienced it... maybe it’s when you’re bored, stressed, sad or tired and you find yourself heading for the snack machine or lolly jar. Whatever it is, it is a reason to eat other than hunger.

While it’s OK from time to time to eat when you are not hungry, too much will hurt your health and your weight management. The purpose of food is to fuel our bodies, the right amount of good fuel will ensure our bodies move and function as healthy machines. Unfortunately this is not why we head for the packet of chips, lollies, chocolate bar or drive through. Most likely we are eating out of habit or emotion.

Emotions are a common eating trigger. When you’re happy you might eat to celebrate; if you’re sad you may eat to soothe; if you’re angry you may take it out with a fork rather than the issue that has made you angry! But if you turn to food for emotional reasons, you won’t resolve the underlying issues. Keeping a food journal has proven to be a successful tool in achieving and maintaining weight loss. It may also help to track your eating habits in the journal to help identify triggers and emotions when you head for the snacks. Writing it down may help you make a connection you hadn’t seen before, like the fact that you eat when you’re lonely or angry. Then you’ll know for the future to look for a different outlet, such as calling a friend when you’re lonely or turning to that punching bag when you’re mad or stressed.

Sometimes you’re not emotional—you’re just bored.

For many people, eating seems like a good solution when there’s nothing better to do. But eating can only last for so long—and then you have an afternoon to fill! If you know boredom is a trigger for your emotional eating, have a list of strategies in place to keep yourself busy and entertained when you don’t have anything else to do. Catch up with a friend, write in your journal or go for a walk.

The dreaded afternoon energy lull can drive even the most disciplined of us to food—especially sugary treats. But that sugar rush might be followed by an even worse crash. Instead, take a walk around the office, head outside for some fresh air, or drink a cup of coffee or a tall glass of cold water. A change of scenery might be just the ticket to battle the afternoon lull.

Do you find it hard to say no to people? If you are a people pleaser, it can be hard to say no, especially when friends or family offer you scrumptious food. And sometimes people who push food don’t take no for an answer. It can be helpful to have strategies in mind before heading for that family get together or office function. Come up with your own ‘script’ of things to say when food that you don’t want to eat is offered. “No thank you, it looks delicious but I’m not hungry at the moment”, “thanks but I’m full and watching my health”. Other useful strategies are to keep an empty plate with you and say you’ve just had something or simply have a little of what is being offered and quietly set it aside somewhere and carry on with enjoying the company at the gathering. Remember it is your right to say no to the food - by saying know to the food pusher, you are saying yes to yourself!

If you eat for reasons other than being hungry, check in with yourself. Knowing what true hunger feels like can help you recognize when you’re eating for other reasons. If you can’t avoid the specific triggers that cause you to eat when you’re not hungry, and there’s no way to avoid them all, knowing these strategies will help!