Hungry? Are you Sure?

Photo by  Alina Shchurova

Practical tips to eat mindfully and reconnect to your body’s intuition.

Evolutionarily speaking, humans are still operating in a starvation mode of sorts. Like a beautiful, slobbering golden retriever who will eat an entire plastic-wrapped turkey that it must later get surgically removed (I speak from experience), our ancestry is largely accountable for the inclination to want to eat more than we need.

So we haven’t evolved past the point of starvation. At least not really.

Christopher Bergland, a world-renowned iron-man athlete and author, is one of many who notes that our subconscious mind has evolved to perceive weight gain as a success.

And this makes sense. You need only think about survival in the wild to realize the importance of accumulating energy for later use. The ability to store fat is amongst our most useful and practical survival mechanisms, providing us with energy for when we are without food.

The thing about evolution is that it is a gradual process. We are where we are today only after eons of change. So, naturally, our bodies haven’t caught up with our minds.

While we may not be literally starving, our physical bodies haven’t exactly received the message. They are designed to survive.

Wild animals, for instance, never know where or when their next meal is coming from. So, when they have access to food, they often don’t stop eating. After all, it could be a long while before their next scrumptous berry or worm.

Now imagine one of these animals in a modern kitchen. Because of our ability to mass produce sustenance with a long shelf-life, we have food galore. It would be a safe guess to assume that a squirrel, for instance, would eat itself sick and then waddle on home.

Our lack of a reliable internal mechanism to satiate mental hunger can be perceived as an inconvenient truth. To this end, Andrew Higginson, an author based out of the University of Exeter, makes an important point; he observes that our lack of control around food is due largely to the nature of the way we retrieve it.

Hundreds of years ago, let alone thousands, food was un-spiced, unprocessed, and often under-cooked. Now that we are faced with remarkably-accessible fried chicken and ice cream, it should come as no surprise that our body’s natural processes often fail to tell us that we’re full.

Observed Intuition

Babies know when they’re full. Granted, the ways they make this known may not be so wonderful (green goop sliding down your shirt and a giggling face in front of you), but that’s not to say this innate intuition isn’t valuable to take note of.

Though it may not be as powerful as the smorgasbord of flavors that regularly face us, our stomachs do have the capacity to recognize they’re full and convey that fact to our midns. It simply takes a bit of processing time.

Unless you have a Sherlock Homes-esque memory, I’d guess that you wouldn’t remember all the facts from a history book after giving them a once-over. Your mind first needs time to digest (pun intended) the information before it can consistently recall it. And so too does your body need time to secrete the right hormones to tell your rapidly thinking mind that you’re full.

Our brain registers feelings of fullness roughly 20 minutes after food consumption. Studies show that during this period, “…the hormone cholecystokinin is released by your intestines and the hormone leptin tells your brain about your long-term needs and overall satiety based on how much energy your body is storing”. Eating too fast or, for example, mindlessly focusing on all the other food in front of you instead of what you’re chewing inhibits these natural processes.

So, are you really hungry?

Photo by  Dicky Jiang

Photo by Dicky Jiang

I’ve come to implement several applicable and practical techniques to determine whether I’m actually hungry.

Having spent a fair share of time working 9–5 jobs behind a computer screen, I’m no stranger to an unfounded desire to eat that was likely the result of work-related boredom; our minds so often revert to thoughts about food that it can be hard, especially in repetitive or familiar situations, to revert to thoughts of food.

Similarly, many often eat when they are tired or sad. Food is often employed as a distraction, from a chore we have to do to a feeling we may not be comfortable with.

It’s important to never say never. Don’t think yourself bad if you eat in front of the TV. If you love popcorn at the movies, for example, don’t deprive yourself. But having practices to come back to when you feel out of control can be useful and improve your quality of life.

These techniques have proven effective time and again at curbing fictitious hunger:

  • Drink Up! It’s easy to mistake dehydration for hunger. Try having 8–12oz of (preferably warm) water. If you’re still hungry a few minutes later, it will only have stoked your digestive fire (if it’s warm).

  • Be mindful of what you’re doing whilst you eat. Being constantly stimulated, whether by a meeting, game, or TV show, inhibits our digestive process and will keep you walking back to the fridge time and again.

  • Let your belly out! Deep diaphragmatic breathing has proven a great way for me to determine if I’m actually hungry. To this end, a simple Google search will return tons of quality resources. There are several other yogic practices that also serve to stop the urge to overeat in its tracks.

  • Think on it. Though it wouldn’t be my first recommended course of action, take some time to think about it! If you’ve had a big meal recently, take some time in a calm and quiet environment. Ask your body what it needs and wants. You’ll likely find, after a time, that the answer isn’t food.

I hope you found this helpful. If you have any questions, comments, or pertinent tips, please feel free to share them!