Non-hungry eating

fiona_boyle

Do you often think that others can manage their weight without having to put in half the effort that you do? Sometimes it seems like some people never need to worry about their weight while others have to constantly be careful with food choices.

If you have constantly been on and off diets over the years it may be that you have lost touch with your normal hunger and that you aren’t as well tuned in to when you have eaten enough. Non-dieters can often judge when they are hungry, when they have had enough and feel quite comfortable forgoing a treat if they are not hungry because they know they can have it later if they feel like it.

We eat for a multitude of reasons – the clock says it is time to eat, the food tastes good, social reasons, habit and hunger as well as a number of emotional reasons such as loneliness, boredom or anger.

Being aware of why, how and when we eat is important. If you try every diet that is going, then you may have dulled your own senses about when you are hungry and when you have eaten enough.

A number of my clients will say to me that they don’t even know when they are hungry or they find it difficult to know when they have had enough to eat.

Strategies

Set, regulated diets will tell you when to eat, what to eat, how much to eat. This often means that in the early stages of the ‘diet’ when your resolve is strong you will stick rigidly to the diet despite what your internal cues of hunger and satiety might tell you.

It doesn’t take long if you are constantly jumping from one diet to the next for your body’s natural signals to get confused.

To break this cycle try to become more aware of why you are eating. Keeping a food and hunger record is one way to help increase your awareness of why and when you are eating.

We all do some non-hungry eating at different times, the important thing is to try and identify why we are eating and if we can improve on some habits.

For instance, if you snack a lot in the afternoon or before dinner when you get home from work, look to see if you ate properly at breakfast or lunch time. Alternatively consider introducing a planned healthy snack at 3pm to prevent the uncontrolled snacking at 4 pm or pre-dinner.

Sometimes it is necessary to look for other ways to break your normal cycle. For instance, I knew someone who would always stop to buy a chocolate bar on the way home; changing the route home so that the shop wasn’t passed was one solution which helped to break this habit.

Often we eat because food is there or we feel we must eat everything served to us. Being able to determine when you have had enough is a great skill. Learning to tune in to one or more of the following types of feelings is important – noticing that the hungry feeling has gone away or noticing that your stomach feels comfortable or feeling like you just don’t want to eat any more.

Only you can learn how to read your own signals, but the most important thing to try and do is to eat slowly so you can have a chance to recognise these feelings before you get to the ‘oh I have eaten too much stage!’.

Once you are more aware of how much you need to eat to be satisfied it is easier to serve the appropriate amount on your plate.

So take the time to tune in to your body and learn to read the cues of hunger and satiety. This is something children are very good at, which is why we should never make them finish everything on their plate if they say they have had enough. With practice and time you can gain this skill back again.

Fiona Boyle

Fiona Boyle is a registered dietitian and nutritionist. She runs a private practice and gives nutrition advice to individuals and families to help meet their health needs and personal goals.

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