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Breaking Up with Food – How Hunger Starts in the Mind

When I first started counseling people on nutrition, I too was obsessed with food. My advice was to eat within 30min of waking and make sure to eat every 3 hours all day long.  If you didn’t do this, my concern was that you were going to be hungry. If you get hungry, you are going to make the wrong food choices and overeat.

This analogy is true for some; however, most people do better when they make fewer food decisions in a day. I have realized over the years that as a general rule we are ALL obsessed with hunger.  Not only with preventing hunger, but also with what to do when we get hungry.

When we think about hunger, we think of the simplistic mechanism of food filling our stomach and sending signals to our brain that we are full.  Then our stomach empties to a certain degree and signals our brain that we are hungry again. Simple enough.

Not so fast….

What about when we get busy and forget to eat? Or what about when we wake up full in the morning even though we have “fasted” all night,  but then are starving in the evening after eating all day?

It seems that hunger is more complex than just a stomach and brain relationship.

What if I told you that hunger was partially learned. Even when we are not truly hungry, if we smell freshly baked bread we can have the desire to eat! It happens to me every time I drive by the Weston bakery on Victoria street.

In fact, there are measurable changes that happen in our body when we expect food.  We can salivate and release both pancreatic fluid and insulin, all to prime the system to expect food.

Have you ever tried the lemon experiment?

Think about picking up a fresh lemon, and then cutting off the ends. How does it smell? Now cut a slice and pretend to put that sour lemon slice in your mouth.  Think of how your mouth puckers with that sour taste.

Did you salivate?

This is just the reason that plating food and making food look appetizing is so appealing. We start the “eating” process way before food even touches our lips.

We also get hungry because our body falls into a habit. If we eat every day at 7am, 10am, 12pm, 3pm  and 6pm we will often be hungry at those times regardless of whether or not we are physiologically hungry.

Traditions will also make us hungry. Have you ever finished a huge meal but still had room for pie after Thanksgiving dinner or popcorn at the movies?

Don’t forget about those emotions! Has anyone ever eaten or overeaten food because they are stressed, tired, happy or angry?

My point is we eat for many reasons other than being physiologically hungry, and it is high time that we break up with food.

My  Top Three Strategies for a Healthy Relationship with Food

  1.     Try to schedule 3 meal times per day at consistent times. This way your body will establish a habit and become hungry at these times
  2.     If you are switching to eating three times a day, make sure your meals are complete. It will be hard for you to get to lunch feeling energetic if you are having a piece of toast for breakfast. Instead make sure that your meals are complete with fats and proteins to keep you energized all day long
  3.     Break the Snack habit – although I encouraged people to snack for years, most of my clients are now asked not to snack. Instead, if you feel “hungry” between meals reach for a beverage like sparkling water, herbal tea, tea or coffee

While there is a time for feasting and enjoying decadent and rich meals, our daily lives need to be about simplicity.

The average person makes over 200 food decisions per day, and those that are having a challenging relationship with food will make many more than that.

What will you do with all of your free mental space when you simplify your relationship with food?


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