Imagine if pizza was just pizza, and not a stress reducer.
Guess what? It’s not. It’s just pizza.
Now, imagine if that ice cream, those cookies, the bag of potato chips and those burgers with fries were just, well, food, and not mood enhancers? Guess what? They’re not. They’re just food.
The trouble is that food is too often way more than simply healthy nutrition. Food is far too often something we nosh on to bring back that lovin’ feeling, and to overcome negative emotions such as sadness, ennui, anger or tension. So do you know where your hunger is? Here’s my handy “Gastronomic Positioning System” to help you locate your hunger above or below your neck.
✓ Head, or “emotional,” hunger is above your neck while stomach, or “physical,” hunger is below your neck. Easy enough, right? But wait, there’s more.
✓ Head hunger hits you out of the blue, when you aren’t even be thinking about food. One minute you are focused on writing an article and the next minute, whoosh, it’s “FEEEEED ME NOWWWWW!” time.
✓ Are you craving only one type of food? Think that only that chocolate almond candy bar will satisfy you? That’s hunger that’s coming from above the neck, especially when that “not-really-hunger” is urgent and tugging at you to eat NOWWWW!
✓ Your GPS is pointing brainward when that “not-really-hunger” is tied to a situation you erroneously believe is “upsetting” you, “making” you sad, “causing” you to feel angry. (Remember, the link is what you think.).
✓ Really believe that someone else is shoving that cupcake into your mouth? Psychotically believe the plate of fries is calling your name? Find that the food on the buffet line somehow automatically winds up in your mouth and you have no recollection of how it got there? That’s above the neck, emotional hunger. By the way, the fries aren’t calling your name. Fries don’t talk. Really. They don’t.
✓ Got that full feeling but keep eating anyway? Guess which hunger that is? Yep, you guessed it. It’s that nasty head hunger that’s on auto-mindless pilot.
✓ So, you were feeling anxious, depressed, angry and thought that potato chips and ice cream would be good mood fixers. So you ate and ate and lo and behold, still feel what you were feeling but now on top of that, you also feel that grisly GUILT feeling. That’s definitely a knock on your door that says, “This is your head stopping by for some food.”
Hunger that comes on slowly, usually a few hours after you’ve eaten a meal, doesn’t “require” one specific food to “satisfy” you, begins with rumbling and gnawing sounds in your stomach and is patient, is real, true to life, in your stomach, physical hunger. It’ll stop when you are full and probably won’t leave you feeling guilty afer you’ve eaten. Sounds great, right?
Now that you know the difference, here are some steps to take to turn your head around.
1. Identify the emotional triggers that set your eating in motion. Emotion journals that include what you think and feel are remarkably helpful in focusing in on an illogical drive to eat. Write down what you are thinking and feeling before, during and after you eat. Ask yourself, “Am I physically hungry? What am I thinking/feeling? What do I need? How can I meet this need?”
2. Create and use your own “hunger scale” from 0, starving to the point of feeling sick, to 3, hungry with a grumbling stomach, to 7, feeling full and slightly uncomfortable to 10, feeling sick and extremely uncomfortable.
3. It’s not what’s eating you but rather it’s what emotion(s) you are eating about. Create other ways to deal with emotional eating. This might include going for a walk, talking things over with a trusted friend, exercising, taking a nap, or some other productive activity. Tell yourself, “It’s just a craving and it’ll pass.” “I can stand feeling discomfort.” “Just because I think it’s what I need, doesn’t mean it really is.”
4. Before eating, use these four steps:
Stop – Breathe – Reflect – Choose wisely and ask
Why do I want to eat now?
Why this particular food?
Is this what I really need?