As a (mostly) former binge and secret eater, I had to re-learn hunger cues big time. It took me a while to catch on to when my body was actually hungry versus bored, upset, stressed, tired, angry, sad or any of the other emotions I turned to food to solve.
At first the feeling of hunger was really uncomfortable. It was honestly a completely new sensation for me, but over time I learned to tell the difference between the beginning stages of hunger versus needing food STAT.
When I think back to my level of self awareness before I started paying attention to what and how much I was eating, I don’t think I ever really stopped to see if I was hungry before chowing down.
Now I try and wait until I am hungry to eat and I find my meals to be much more satisfying because I am giving my body something it actually needs as opposed to stuffing it with filler.
I don’t believe that all eating has to be purely for nourishment, however. I’m all for eating for fun, eating in celebration or just eating something because food tastes good. But as someone who is actively losing weight, learning and honoring my body’s hunger cues has been a huge success in my journey.
Also, when I think about eventually being in a place where I no longer want to lose weight, I imagine that knowing and relying on my hunger signs will be a huge part of maintenance.
So what do I do when I feel the urge to eat but am not really hungry? So glad you asked!
1. Chew gum. I would estimate that I probably go through about a pack of gum a week. My favorite right now is Trident, but I’m not super picky. I keep some in a drawer in my desk at all times to tide me over when I’m feeling the urge to chew something. I’m not sure if it’s just the act of chewing gum itself that is so satisfying, or something else, but having gum around has really helped me avoid snacking. It’s also a good excuse to turn down food that’s being offered to you.
2. Drink tea or water. On my desk at work I also keep a reusable water bottle and a big jar with lots of different tea bags. Having the items right in front of me and on hand at all times prompts me to drink water continuously throughout the day, which definitely helps keep me feeling full. And nursing a cup of hot tea is really comforting if I’m feeling stressed about a deadline at work, or just pausing to think. I remember when I used to write papers in college, I would keep a giant bag of Goldfish next to me and for some reason the constant hand to mouth motion kept me focus on my work. Now I play with paperclips or simply just hold on to the mug of tea to keep my hands occupied when I’m not typing. My brand of choice for tea currently is Celestial Seasonings herbal fruit tea sampler. All the different flavors are sweet and smell delicious.
3. Read, write, or do something creative. I find that when I’m engrossed in a creative project or enthralling story, I don’t think about hunger. When I’m really in the groove writing the last thing I want to do is break my stride for food. When i’m writing or reading, real hunger will make it impossible for me to concentrate, so I’ll know its time for a snack break. But if I’m not actually hungry, being engrossed in a project takes my mind off thinking about food. Next time you think you’re hungry, pick up a good book or turn to a news site you like, if the feeling of hunger is still nagging at you after 10 minutes, it’s probably time to eat.