When you make a choice to eat, what drives your decision? For many people, it can be any number of feelings, from boredom or stress to fatigue or just wanting to "taste" whatever it is you are craving. But there is only one physical signal we have that indicates it's a good time to eat, and that's hunger. Hunger is very interesting. It's not an "on/off" switch, but rather it's more like the volume on your television. There are many levels. When the hunger "volume" is up, your feelings may be more intense, like a growling stomach or an urgent need to eat for more energy. When the hunger volume is lower, it could be that you are just starting to feel hungry again, but it is not as intense. If you wait a bit, you will feel the hunger increase.
You can rely on your hunger signals if you don't try to fight them. You usually feel sensations in your belly area like a stomach growl or empty feeling that occurs between three and five hours since your last meal, depending on how much you ate and how quickly your body processed it. When you listen to the signals in this way, it is call "intuitive eating"—trusting your body to give you signs of physical hunger, and trusting yourself to honor those signals by eating.
It's a good idea to get attuned to your hunger signals, regardless of whether you are trying to lose weight or not. Intuitive eating is rational. You get hungry; you eat. It seems simple enough. For some people, this is easier said than done. Some people feel challenged to differentiate a hunger pang from a craving or a means of distraction. way to distract themselves from tackling a growing to-do list Sometimes they confuse a neutral feeling—neither hungry nor full—with hunger. If there is "room" for food, maybe that's hunger?! Sometimes people can identify the feeling, but they don't want to know the answer. They want to eat the food. No matter where you fall on this spectrum, know that you can improve upon your eating skills so that you feel more familiar with the signals. You will feel empowered to make choices to eat based not on your emotional need for food, but your physical hunger.
What do you tell yourself besides "I'm hungry" before you eat something? Have you ever said any of the following:
• I had a bad day so I deserve to eat [fill in the blank].
• I already messed up by ordering take-out for lunch today. I might as well just skip my workout, eat something unhealthy, and start over tomorrow.
• I never eat well when I'm stressed. It's how I deal.
Each of these statements exemplifies self-sabotage. They are irrational thoughts you tell yourself that take you out of a dialogue with your body. Think about it. If you were teaching eating skills to someone, would you say, "When you have a bad day, treat yourself with a candy bar from and maybe you will feel better." How about: "You should be ashamed for ordering takeout. Since you ruined your day, you might as well eat a huge bowl of ice cream and skip your workout." You can easily see the irrational thinking when you imagine yourself doling out such advice.
The problem with self-sabotage is that it does not help you whatsoever. It doesn't help you eat a balanced diet. It doesn't help you feel good about your habits. Finally, it doesn't help you reach a weight that's right for you.
You can stop getting in your own way by squashing sabotage.
• Make a list of all the "rationales" you have told yourself. For each one, write down if the thought is realistic and helps you with self care, or if the thought is irrational and leads you to pursue poor habits.
• Whenever you hear one of your "rationales" come up, pause, write it down, and ask yourself: "Is this the best self-care choice for me right now?"
• Pay attention to signs of hunger every day. There are many times you may think about eating or experience a craving. It's okay. Just take a minute to decipher what you are feeling. Does your body need food? If so, use your intuitive eating skills, and eat. If you know you don't feel hunger, name that emotion, and come up with a way to address it that doesn't involve eating.
Please be patient. It takes time to change and build new skills. Don't expect miracles overnight. But sooner or later you will stop subverting your desire to eat well and feel healthy.
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Rebecca Scritchfield, MA, RD, ACSM Health Fitness Specialist, helps empower people to build healthy lifestyles. A graduate of the Johns Hopkins University, Scritchfield is a Washington, D.C., based registered dietitian and fitness expert who encourages clients to find exercise that feels great, learn to manage stress, and establish lifelong eating skills that balance individual nutrition needs with hunger and pleasure. Visit her blog at: www.rebeccathinks.com.