Are You Really Hungry?

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I’ve learned so much about nutrition in the past decade.  But I’ve learned even more about the power of our mind in the past couple of years.

I recently had an amazing 10-minute conversation that somehow concluded 3 hours later with one of our Velo Girls sponsors, Mae from LadyParts Automotive Services.  Each time we get together, we start out talking about business and end up having deep, meaningful, thought-provoking conversations about feminism, health and fitness, religion, nutrition, dating, philanthropy, empowering women and girls, you name it!  So as our conversation segued naturally from one topic to the next, we started discussing nutrition, lifestyle change, and the influence of emotion on our eating habits.  I thought I’d share some insight with those of you who might have an interest in this topic as well.

I went through a pretty significant weight loss between 2009 and 2012.  This was the second time in the past decade I’ve had this experience, and I fully intend for it to be the last time in my life I need to lose weight.  I hit my goal weight in July 2012 and have been able to maintain that weight (and lose some body fat) since then.  The last time I went through weight loss, I started gaining it back as soon as I had achieved my goal weight.  As I think about why this time it will “stick,” I realize that in addition to transforming my body, this time, I transformed my mind.

As women (and some men, too), many of us struggle with emotional eating.  We use food to self-medicate.  We eat when we’re happy.  We eat when we’re sad.  We eat when we’re stressed.  We eat to celebrate life.  We eat for a plethora of reasons that have little or nothing to do with nutrition.  So, if you find yourself craving food even when you know you’re not physically hungry, I suggest you ask yourself these questions:

“Are you hungry, or are you really thirsty?”

“Are you hungry, or are you really bored?”

“Are you hungry, or are you really tired?”

“Are you hungry, or are you really stressed out?”

You could add to this list, but you get the idea.  We often eat, not out of physiological need, but out of emotional desire.  So, if you’re trying to maintain healthy nutrition, learn to become mindful of when and what you eat.  Don’t go to the refrigerator when what you really need to do is go to the gym or finish that tough work project or take a nap.

I’ve invested much time in the past couple of years learning about emotional eating and food addiction.  Of course, this leads to learning about other addictions as well.  I read an article recently that outlines the dopamine effect of reward-based behavior.  In short, that positive reaction we have eating, drinking, taking drugs, etc, is a response to the 2nd exposure and there is diminishing return to subsequent exposures, which is why addicts need more exposure to obtain the same initial uplifting effect.  Using food as an example, the first bite does very little for you, but the 2nd bite is the one that satisfies your cravings.  And each bite after that doe not significantly enhance that effect.  In other words, if 2 is good, 3 isn’t better.  But, for those people who have addiction, the desire to have 3, 4, 5, or more is overwhelming in their need to feel good.

As Mae and I continued to discuss lifestyle change and nutrition, she told me she was amazed that I seemed to speak of food as such a positive thing.  Many folks who struggle with over-eating, food addition, being overweight, etc, view food as the enemy.  But I view food as fuel.  Food provides the physical and mental energy for me to function:  to think, to ride my bike, to feel strong and healthy.  And quality food, filled with lots of colors and textures, will help me stay healthy and happy.

I referred several times to eating beige food, so Mae asked me what I meant.  In short, we should strive to eat colorful food:  lots of fruits and vegetables.  We should limit the beige foods (breads, pastas, gravies, etc).

So, five tools that may help you shift your thinking about food:

#1 — Are you hungry?

#2 — Be mindful of the 2nd bite.

#3 — Food is energy that allows you to function optimally, both physically and mentally.

#4 — Fill your plate with lots of color.

#5 — Food is not the enemy.  Food is a positive and necessary component of life!  Put the good stuff in and you’ll get the good stuff out!