Why is it that some times I can say no, and at other times my willpower completely fails me? Why is it that some foods hold more sway over me than they do over someone else (and vice versa)? More to the point, what do I do about it? How do I decide what is the best course of action, until I really understand the "why" behind my eating?
I was tasked with identifying what type of hunger I was fueling when I ate, not just tracking calories and macronutrients in a food journal, but also considering WHY I was eating at that time. It goes a long way to explaining why I'd choose a particular food.
What need am I meeting when I eat? I need to learn to ask myself before I choose something (not after, in hindsight): "What is this doing for me? What is this doing for my body? And are the answers in sync, or in opposition?"
We can't survive without food. I suppose life would be easier if we could, because there would be no constant struggle for choice. But we need to eat. It's fuel. And when we eat to fuel our body, when we choose based on that physical need, we're feeding our stomach. The meals that are planned in advance fall into this category. The snacks that balance out the macros (protein, carbohydrates, fat) fall into this category. When I eat before and after a workout, when I eat because otherwise I'd pass out, when I eat because it's been too long since the last time I ate, I am fueling the stomach hunger.
Sometimes when you feel hungry, you may actually be thirsty. It's a sign that you're starting to become dehydrated. Drinking water on a regular basis helps to stem some hunger pangs, and if you are diligently tracking your food intake and feel like you are eating enough but still feel hungry, try some water and see if it helps. It occurred to me once, as I was feeling a tad peckish at the mall, and instead of food I bought a bottle of water. The impulse to chug it down told me I hadn't had enough water that day, and sure enough, I felt much better and no longer hungry after a few minutes. Craving crisis averted.
Most people eat on an emotional level to some extent. Ladies, you know what I'm talking about: at least three days a month the chocolate cravings kick in along with those hormones, amirite? It's a coping mechanism for stress and sadness. Emotional eating is a bit of a conditioned response. I think we often give it a negative connotation, but the emotional eating can be positive, too. Celebrations often focus around food. We socialize and bond over food. So, many comfort foods become associations with events. Thanksgiving and Christmas just wouldn't be the same without dressing (or stuffing, depending on your family's lexicon). Because of that, comfort foods are not necessarily "bad" ones, or the highly addictive foods. It's whatever you've learned to associate with feeling better. It can be cultural. It's learned. And it doesn't matter who you are, there is something that you turn to that makes you feel better when you're upset, stressed, angry, sad, or bored. Whatever that is, recognizing that you're eating to fuel your heart - your emotions - is important. It's not a bad thing, until it gets out of control or if it prevents you from dealing with your feelings and then moving on.
Distinguishing between the head and the heart is hard. They intersect, overlap, and look similar in some cases. Another complication is that the head holds both the mouth and the brain. Mouth hunger is all about cravings. You want a texture, a specific taste or smell. Salty or sweet? Crunchy or creamy? You know you're not hungry because there's a fridge full of veggies but you open every cupboard looking for something that you want, something that will satisfy. That means the hunger is in your head.
But head also means the mind, and so I'm including eating disorders in this one. Because Binge Eating is not usually about an emotional response, and it's not about mouth hunger. That may be a trigger, hence then confusion. But, for me, once a true binge is triggered, it's all head from there.
I think that food addiction also falls into this category. I've been trying to research food addiction and there's a lot of information to wade through. It seems that sugar addiction is the most widely studied and acknowledged. Sugar appears to be as addictive as cocaine. On a less severe scale, food companies spend billions to perfect the balance in the sugar-fat-salt trifecta. Which is why a lot of processed food and fast food are so damn hard to resist. The more you have, the more you want. Sounds an awful lot like addiction to me.
Unpacking the real difference between cravings and addiction is the messy part. Scientists and sociologists will argue the difference between the two. The devil is in the details. For me, the important part is taking action. And if it helps me to treat cravings and binges and an eating disorder as an addiction, so be it. It's something I'll be thinking about and writing about in the next few weeks.
In the meantime, I find myself thinking more about my surroundings. Too many times, the answer to "why are you eating this? Why are you craving this?" is "well, because it's there."
Learning to be mindful about eating is part of my current process.
It comes back to the 5 W's: not just for good research, reporting, and writing!
Who do I eat with - who influences me?
What do I eat?
Where do I eat?
When do I eat?
Why do I eat?