The next time you want to put food into your mouth, ask yourself the important question: are you really hungry? Believe it or not, recognising real hunger pangs is not as easy as it seems.
We eat for many reasons: the main reason, of course, is to nourish our bodies, gain energy and to preserve our health. However, we often misinterpret the messages our body sends us (like feeling thirsty or cold; or experiencing stress, anxiety or sheer boredom) and respond automatically by eating.
We all know how comforting a chocolate can be when you've had a horrible day at work, or are feeling lonely and rejected. Unfortunately the brief chocolate high will soon be replaced by feelings of guilt, and so the negative spiral of emotional eating begins.
Food is also an integral part of our society. We celebrate many special occasions (like birthdays, Christmas, Eid or get-togethers with friends) with food - whether we are in real need of nourishment or not.
Out of touch
The sad reality is that many people have simply forgotten what real hunger feels like and have lost the basic skill of recognising when their body has had enough food - when it has been satiated. (Despite what your parents told you, you don't have to finish everything on your plate - just remember to dish up a smaller portion next time - and you certainly don't have to eat dessert.)
We have lost touch with our bodies' needs and, consequently, have turned into an obese nation with many obesity-related lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and heart disease crippling our health system.
Learning to recognise when you are actually feeling real hunger is a significant step you can take in order to reduce your energy intake and improve your ability to lose weight.
Here are a few tips - courtesy of the Heart and Stroke Foundation - to help you gain control of those emotions and your waistline:
Keep a food diary and record emotions and reasons for eating - this will help you identify the triggers for eating/overeating which in turn will help you mange the situation better the next time.
Manage the situation
Emotions and emotional situations need to be dealt with appropriately i.e. speaking to your partner/boss/best friend and coming to a consensus or even going for a brisk walk to calm yourself down will prevent you from reaching for that lavish lunch or large piece of dessert!
Rate your hunger
Listen to your body and only eat when you are stomach hungry and not emotionally hungry - rate your hunger on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 = ravenous and 1= satisfied). Make this a habit and after a few weeks this type of thinking will happen naturally and will help you put on the brakes when you are on the verge of eating emotionally!
Do some substitution
Gradually replace high kilojoule (comfort) foods with lower kilojoule options e.g. instead of a cheesecake have a bowl of strawberries/cherries with some ricotta cheese (lower fat) and a drizzle of chocolate sauce.
Drink a glass of water
Most of us don't drink enough water and hence thirst can be easily mistaken as hunger. The next time you feel hungry, drink a glass of water, wait a few minutes and see if the desire to eat subsides.
Hook up with a buddy
Support is important and certainly needed to help uplift your spirits - this way you won't need to turn to those kilojoule-laden comfort foods - give your friend a call rather than sending an e-mail or go for a movie with your mom or a few good friends - you'll be surprised at just what a difference it can make.
Give yourself some time
You can eat absolutely anything you want on condition that you wait 30 minutes before you have it. When time becomes a factor, you may reconsider and find that you don't really need to eat that particular food and this will help prevent you from spontaneously binging which you could very well regret later.
- (Birgit Ottermann, Health24, updated October 2012)
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