The nutrition landscape has become a series of landmines, rabbit holes, and confusing anecdotes from the ‘study of one’ gurus.
“I have a 6 pack follow me. It’s simple just eat on your left foot, while sipping a grapefruit through a straw and ensure you’ve done 3000 pull ups and 2300 sit ups but only after sleeping in 2 hour periods to maximise your ketoacidosis”
A lot of my work at the individual level is challenging a lot of those food rules. Food rules that we have just accepted as gospel based on not much truth at all. Those silly things when said out loud don’t make any sense but yet are the basis of constant thought and torturous self talk for people. ‘Carbs are bad’, ‘I can’t believe how many of those m & m’s I ate’, ‘I can’t eat anything after 3pm’, ‘I really let myself down today, I just had so much bad food’. Does any of that help though? Is that your version of health? One simple question can help frame the discussion with a lot of people. How often do you eat when you aren’t hungry?
In the food diary process, one simple way to perform any analysis is to ask people to use the hunger scale alongside the recording. If you think about it in your own life, when was the last time you ate when you weren’t hungry? When did you eat beyond what you felt your body needed? Some call it intuitive eating and others listening to your body, I just call it hunger. Your body has a good regulator of what it needs. I like to think it’s like the inner child, my very own toddler, it’s very good at letting me know what it needs and when! It’s also not interested in too many pleasantries or hasn’t developed too much of a social intelligence yet and you can’t ignore it.
So, when was the last time you ate?
How hungry were you from 1-10? 1 being the hungriest you’ve ever been, 10 being that feeling after Christmas lunch.
Did you keep eating beyond the point at which you were satisfied? If so, why? (the answer isn't I don't know I promise)
Hunger is a fundamental of the eating experience and non-hungry eating usually comes down to a combination of several things:
-timing - the clock says it’s time to eat, this results from living in our world with bells and classes and meetings and deadlines. It’s not necessarily a bad thing but forcing yourself to eat just because you won’t have time later is tricky.
-social - you may feel an obligation to eat or drink beyond what it is you feel is the right amount for you. Think about the child that’s forced to eat everything on their plate to respect the person that provided it, waste not want not! We are training through social pressure, a practice of eating when not hungry.
- emotion - any emotion, positive, negative or indifferent, even boredom can drive us to eat when we aren’t hungry. Reward for ‘being good’ or dealing with a crappy boss, what food is serving in that moment is likely nothing to do with your stomach and a lot more to do with how you’re feeling emotionally.
-deprivation - if you go without for a long period, hunger and emotion are like Romeo and Juliet, good luck splitting those 2! - this can also encompass dehydration. Thirst can play a major part in your food intake as water in one of the largest constituents of food, you might just be thirsty not hungry.
-closely linked to emotion but slightly deeper - we have an unmet need -
the need for survival,
for power or recognition (the other inner toddler again…give me attention!!!!),
for freedom and
for fun - soul food!
Here I said at the start I didn’t want to complicate it for you. If I can be clear though, eating when not hungry isn’t a good or bad thing, it’s just whether it is serving you and your goals.
If I can boil it down to a couple of questions for you at your next meal:
how hungry are you?
At what point in the meal do you become satisfied? Did you stop then or keep going? Why to either answer?
Does the non-hungry eating serve you and your goals or not?
It isn’t a bad or a good thing to eat when you’re not hungry, we just want to know the driver behind it to ensure it is consistent with your version of health.