Hello, evil hunger bear…
You’ve heard the advice time and time again, “don’t wait until you are hungry to eat!” To this I say, why the hell not? Hunger is a natural sensation that we should tap in to and listen to. If we are constantly eating for fear of feeling hungry, we will never truly become in tune with our bodies.
Note- if you have blood sugar issues (PCOS, diabetes, metabolic disorder, thyroid conditions etc.) do what you need to do! Snack away!
Now, I know the argument is that if you wait until you are starving, you will eat everything in sight. Ok. But may I suggest a shift in perspective? Instead of seeing yourself as starving, see yourself as simply hungry and looking forward to your next yummy meal. Doesn’t that sound better?
Regarding body composition (those looking to lose weight/body fat, athletes, body builders etc.), there is the popular theory that we should eat every 2 hours to “stoke our metabolic fire” and prevent the terror of, gasp, hunger. Now, I am not going to go into the science of this here (that’s a whole other animal) and I will say I don’t have a problem with thoughtful snacking and eating throughout the day, if it works for you (and, again, if blood sugar management is an issue for you). What I want to point out, though, is the overarching problem with the mentality of “I must never feel hungry.”
We’ve all heard of the French paradox. And full disclosure, I’m simply fascinated by the French joie de vivre. They have a wonderful relationship with food and are sure to not deprive themselves. They eat diets rich in fats and they certainly drink a lot of wine (both of which the US Food Pyramid/My Plate considers a no-no), yet their rate of chronic illness is far below ours. Obviously, there are lots of factors at play here (they walk a lot more, for one) but what I would like to emphasize is not only their food selection- -quality over quantity– but rather their relationship with the dining experience itself.
Never eat on the go
You won’t see the French walking down the street while eating (not often, at least). You also won’t see them eating on the metro, in their cars, or in front of their computers at work (or home).
Eating on the go is too distracting. Our mind isn’t focused on eating and therefore our bodies aren’t focused on digesting and assimilating the ingredients. As Emily Rosen of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating says, “you can be eating the most nutritionally perfect meal but it won’t matter if you are in a stressed state.” Eating on the go is stressed eating. Instead, give precedence to your dining experience. It’s essential to living after all. Turn off your TV, close the computer, flip your phone over, and SIT DOWN.
We are a snacking culture. We have pre-packaged this and microwavable that. Gogurts, snack packs, protein bars, individually packed everything… We are told to always have snacks on hand at the office to avoid the vending machine, which is still good advice, or to always have snacks for our kids when we are out and about incase they get cranky. This is sooo not chic, according to the French.
Well, I’m not concerned with being chic but I do think there is a deeper psychological aspect to snacking. It’s something to do when we are bored and it offers instant feel-good feelings when we think we need them. It also keeps the evil hunger bear at bay. We tend to snack when we are multi-tasking. We don’t thoughtfully sit down, eliminate distractions, put on some soothing tunes, and eat slowly when we are about to chow down on some Cheetos or granola bar. We just continue whatever it was we were doing while allowing one hand to shuttle food to our face.
Of course, if you have some medical condition requiring careful blood sugar/insulin management (i.e. diabetes etc.) then you need to have certain snacks available. But it does go back to the original premise that you are in-tune with your body. You listen to it’s signals.
Try this, for one week, cut down on snacking and actually let yourself feel a bit of hunger before meals. What is your body telling you?
While our days may not allow for long lunch breaks for reasons that are out of our control, we can still find ways to slow down our eating. In many European countries, you will notice that lunch typically is a 2-hour event, followed by a nap. How nice. While we can wish for something like that, let’s be real, it’s often just not feasible. And that’s ok.
Instead, try putting your fork down between each bite and take a few deep breaths. Enjoy a meal with a friend and engage in conversation. When you’re busy talking, you can’t mindlessly shovel food in your face. Let go of the feeling of being being rushed. This is a hard one for me as I tend to always be thinking about the next thing I have to do. Try to just be present. I know it sounds cheesy and you’ve heard it before but eating is a perfect time to practice this sort of mindfulness.
Allow for pleasure
Take a few breaths in between each bite. Notice the flavors and textures, the aroma. Ask yourself, do I like this food? It’s ok if you don’t! Be honest with yourself and your taste buds. Life is too short to spend eating foods you don’t enjoy (and that don’t serve your body).
Are you a snacker/grazer? If so, what are your go to nibbles?
Or are you more of a 3-square-meals a day type of eater? I’m curious!
Love and light,
- Wansink, B., Payne, C., & Chandon, P. (2007). Internal and External Cues of Meal Cessation: The French Paradox Redux?. Obesity, 15(12), 2920-2924.
- Woods, S. (1991). The eating paradox: How we tolerate food. Psychological Review, 98(4), 488-505.
- David, M. (1991). Nourishing wisdom: A new understanding of eating. New York: Bell Tower.