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Why We Eat

Aug 18, 2007
In the quest for weight loss, the diet industry puts a lot of attention on what we eat but focusing on why we eat may be more important.

After losing over 70 lbs. permanently and becoming a weight loss coach for others, I have found most people have a pretty good idea of what they should eat. We have no problem categorizing foods into healthy and non-healthy lists. But ask someone why they eat and the usual response is "hunger." Unraveling the deeper reasons beneath the pre-emptive response of "hunger" may take a little detective work!

Here are a few things that might be lurking beneath the surface of hunger. Keep in mind that the categories can overlap and coexist!

Learned Behavior

Some people learn behaviors at an early age and never question them. A good example is milk and cookies at bedtime or a larger-than-usual meal on Sunday nights. We rarely think about Learned Behaviors, we simply do them unconsciously. However, the calories still count!

Availability of Food

Imagine you ate a satisfying breakfast. You don't feel hungry at all. Then, someone brings donuts to work. Imagine further that you don't even like the type of donuts that appeared! How many times would you eat them anyway? Nine out of 10 times? Availability of Food can be a real quagmire along the weight loss route, especially in the United States where food is abundant and relatively inexpensive.

Other examples of Availability of Food are all-you-can-eat buffets and social occasions.

Cravings

Cravings for food are chemical. For example, when the brain needs serotonin, the brain causes carbohydrate cravings. When blood sugar levels are low, we may crave sugary or sweet foods. When we experience cravings, eating what we crave will satisfy the body for a very short time, then the craving will return full force. Protein is actually a better choice when intense desire occurs because it will break the craving cycle.

Emotional Eating

Food can dilute, soften or dull emotions we term "unpleasant" like anger, resentment, frustration, guilt and hatred. Even emotions we label "desirable" can be so intense, food may be used to dull the feeling back into a manageable or tolerable level. Prime emotions for this type of eating are joy, happiness, desire, elation and excitement.

At other times, we may eat to substitute for a lack of feeling. A good example of this is boredom. Eating when you are bored can bring on feelings of self-hatred, humiliation, and shame, but the bored, empty feeling is gone!

Habits

A habit is a stable behavior formed through repetition over time. Many people ask how this is different than Learned Behavior. The difference is that Learned Behaviors are learned from other people, usually family, and have a long history. We are solely responsible for forming Habits. The good news is that good habits are as easily formed as bad habits.

Social Eating

It is rare to socialize in any way today in America without the involvement of food. Watching a football game at a neighbor's house, meeting friends you haven't seen for a while: these things don't need the involvement of food but it usually becomes an integral part of any social plan. This often intersects with Availability of Food. It might be wise to ask yourself if you are really hungry or just eating because it seems the acceptable and expected thing to do.

Environmental Eating

Does a visit to the ball park always mean hot dogs? Does a movie have to include 2000 calories of popcorn? Certain environments trigger eating that is unhealthy. Sometimes it can be any environment that is not home. For instance, do you always eat more than necessary when dining in a restaurant?

Hunger

Hunger, true hunger, is another reason to eat. And, ideally, it's the only reason. Humans were designed to eat to fuel their bodies. Fuel to survive. Fuel for the massive amounts of maintenance, healing and growth our bodies accomplish every day.

The first step in straightening out a negative eating style is to be able to recognize the why as it is happening.

It may take a bit of work to get to the point where true hunger can be recognized but we'd all be thinner and healthier if we ate only when we were hungry.
About the Author
Pat Barone earned her title "America's Weight Loss Catalyst" by coaching thousands of clients toward permanent weight loss. Her status as an expert is heightened by her own personal weight loss success. Receive her free newsletter THE CATALYST by visiting http://www.patbarone.com/sign_up.htm.
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