Hunger vs cravings

Lots of clients keep telling me that they’re eating more than normal during lockdown & that many of their choices aren’t as healthy as they like. Sometimes they’re eating to address boredom, sometimes just because the food is there, sometimes because they’ve mistaken thirst for hunger (as they’re not staying hydrated enough) and sometimes because they’re actually hungry.

Let’s talk about hunger first. Hunger is a completely natural sensation, but one that many of us aren’t as mindful of as perhaps we could be. So your challenge today is to really start noticing when you feel hungry and judging when is the right time to eat and when you should stop.

Many of us still continue to eat when we aren’t hungry though, often of an evening, and often things like chocolate.

Assuming that you’re at a 5/10 or above in terms of satisfied and hydrated, and you still want to eat, you are not hungry and your body doesn’t need food. If you are craving food, it is emotional and not physical. Where this happens it’s typically for one of a couple of reasons:

  1. Firstly you might not feel satisfied by what you’ve eaten. You might be physically full, but if you haven’t had enough variety or flavour in your food, you might still crave certain things.
  2. Secondly, you might be treating or rewarding yourself…for surviving a difficult day, the kids being in bed, etc.
  3. Alternatively you may have just been eating mindlessly or whilst multi-tasking and so your brain hasn’t registered anything about the meal. Or you might simply be bored and have chosen eating as an activity.

These all have slightly different solutions to them and some are obviously easier to combat than others.

Meal planning and variety go a long way in dealing with the satisfaction point. If you feel that your meals are bland, restrictive and plain old boring then you’re not going to be able to stick to them so you need to mix things up a bit.

The reward piece is a big one and it isn’t as easy to stop because it’s ingrained in stress management and comfort. The focus needs to be around reducing stress (easier said than done sometimes I know), employing alternative stress management techniques and using non-food or alcohol related rewards. You need to feel physically and mentally nourished.

And mindless eating can be tackled by switching off/removing distractions, slowing down / putting your knife and fork down between bites and generally paying more attention to the colour, texture, temperature and taste of your food.

Sometimes, however, you can try all of this and the craving is still there and the more you deny yourself the more you want it. So my advice when you have a craving like this is to drink a glass of water before giving in to it, wait 10 minutes, try and distract yourself and if the craving still doesn’t subside, then satisfy it with a small amount of what you’ve been craving. Just a small amount though. Savour it, enjoy it and don’t feel guilty about it. It’s just one meal/snack and it does not define your week. Cravings are a normal part of life and giving in to them in moderation is absolutely fine.

If that craving is a regular one, however, and you keep giving into it and you don’t want to, have a think about making over your kitchen and getting rid of it. If a food is in your house, it will eventually get eaten!

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