Hormones, genetics, learned eating patterns, social cues, circadian rhythm, and environmental factors all influence our hunger levels. Our eating habits are shaped in many different ways but can change over time as we develop ways to combat unhealthy habits.
In the body hunger is regulated by hormones: leptin tells the body when it is full and ghrelin signals the body to eat. This type of eating is homeostatic eating, or eating to meet our energy needs and keep the body in balance (homeostasis). When we are not eating to maintain homeostasis, we are hedonic eating. Hedonic eating is for pleasure, also known as emotionally driven eating.
How can you tell the difference between mindful eating and emotional eating? Ask yourself this set of questions the next time you are feeling a strong craving coming on:
1. Am I truly hungry? Take this time to drink a full glass of water and take a short walk.
2. If you are still hungry ask yourself, am I craving an unhealthy meal or snack or would I eat a bowl of chopped veggies or a piece of fruit.
If the answer is no, then check in with yourself to see if you are truly hungry or if this is driven from stress, lack of sleep, too much stimulus/temptation, or some other emotional trigger.
If you find yourself emotionally eating its best to look at a pattern of when you typically emotionally eat and then learn to deal with it in a healthy way. Stressed out? head outside for a walk or meditate. Feeling overwhelmed? Make a checklist or get some help completing tasks that are easy for other to accomplish, like getting a maid to clean your house.
Sometimes a craving hits and even after resisting it for days you are still feeling the need to eat whatever it is. In this instance I recommend a practice I like to call mindful eating, and why using an If it fits your macros (IIFYM) dieting approach is beneficial. Using IIFYM allows yourself to program in treats for the day if you are really wanting something in particular. The approach of delayed gratification, delaying your craving until you can plan it into your day, is a way to eat mindfully. Planning out a treat in advance allows you to separate it from emotion and gives the power back to you.
One last thing I’d like to leave you with is that dependance on food can be an addiction and the best way to fight an addiction is to bring mindfulness to it. These cravings are typically not a real need, but just a craving, so let your body experience it and move on. Urges will come in waves, so remember that the craving will pass and sometimes be more intense. Recognize that desire for certain foods are just thoughts.