Last week I met with my client, Leslie. She was feeling angry at herself, out of control with her eating, and defeated. In talking with her, I thought it would be good to do a little exercise. I asked her to think of something she ate the day before, to pretend she was in that moment, and ask herself “Why are you eating?” She thought for a moment and then shrugged her shoulders. “I was probably hungry?”, she said.
Other answers I’ve heard to the same question from others this past week: “It was time to eat (lunch/snack/dinner)”; “It looked good and I couldn’t say no”; “Everyone else was having some”; “I was stressed”; “I was in a hurry”.
All reasonable answers.
Why Am I Eating?
In considering eating, we typically think of several things: What, when, and how much? We’re really fixated on the “What”. What are the superfoods, what foods will help me lose weight, what foods can I eat on the run that are still healthy? Then there’s the “When”. When is the best time to eat, should I eat after 8pm, how many hours after waking should I eat breakfast?.
“How Much” gets a lot of attention. What’s right portion size, how many almonds in a serving, should I have three large meals or several small ones throughout the day? I’ve found these questions to be a misdirection of effort and energy. What, When, and How Much are so variable! It’s folly to try to nail these down into pat answers. It’s a waste of time to make blanket rules.
I always encourage my clients to look for the “Why”.
If you know the “Why”, then the what, when, and how much become obvious.
Well, Leslie told me straight out – she doesn’t have time for “Why”. I’ll agree that looking for the “Why” is more challenging than having a handout that lists finite rules for healthy eating. Plus, self examination isn’t a habit many of us have embraced over the years. Handouts are so much easier, right?
Nope. Handouts don’t ebb and flex with the realities of your day to day life. In fact, handouts aren’t easier at all. They’re harder. Harder on your self esteem. Handouts and rules are a set up for failure and feeling bad about yourself. Looking for your “Why” is always time well spent.
Once you know your “Why”, you can do no wrong. I’ll tell you just what I told Leslie. First, I told her that figuring out the “Why” isn’t all that hard. Then I gave her the Cliff’s Notes. People eat for three reasons, it all boils down to three simple “Whys”: For Fuel, for Fun, to Fix Feelings. Your time isn’t well spent memorizing a handout. The skill that will really get you somewhere is a genuine understanding which of those three apply in very instance when you reach for food. To do this you’re going to need to slow down, to take a pause, and to get honest with yourself. This will take practice.
Once you get clear on your “Why”, the What, When, and How Much become obvious. The look in Leslie’s eyes said, “Break it down, Jennifer.” Hunger: Surely this one is the most straightforward. You’re hungry, you eat, it’s simple physiology.
If the “Why” is hunger, the answer is food for Fuel. From there: What = nutrient-dense food to power your body. When = at the time you are hungry. How Much = enough to feel comfortably full. Practice, practice, practice. Community/Celebration: I love this one. You’re at a gathering of some sort, it’s a holiday or special occasion, or maybe there’s a particular food that you can only get once in a while. If the “Why” is community/celebration, the answer is food for Fun. What = Cake, Cookies, Candy, Chips, Pizza, Ice Cream, Your Family’s Traditional Foods, Holiday Foods, ‘Junk’ Foods, etc, etc. When = at the time. How Much = enough to participate and savor. A lot of people struggle with this one, because they’ve been trained to think that eating food for Fun is hedonistic and means a loss of will power.
If that’s your mindset, take me up on a Free Consultation and see if I can’t broaden your horizons. Emotions: Yup, we’re going to talk about the elephant in the room. If the motivation to eat isn’t Fuel or Fun, the “Why” is most likely that you’re hoping to Fix Feelings. Some examples: angry, lonely, tired, stressed, bored, unappreciated, or hurt.
There are solutions for these, ways to Fix Feelings, but none of them are food. In fact, in these cases, eating could actually make the feelings worse. There is no reasonable What, When, or How Much for this kind of eating. Compulsive overeating and guilt usually come in here. This is the “Why” that needs real investigation. You’ve got to find a new skill set like I help my clients create for themselves.
There’s a degree of trial and error in learning to practice Fixing Feelings, but again and again I see people do it and feel great about themselves. And, once you’ve got the tools to Fix Feelings, then all the eating you do for Fuel or for Fun becomes health-promoting and guilt-free. Big win! That was a lot from me. I’m guessing you can tell I’m pretty passionate about this stuff. If you struggle with – heck, maybe you’ve never even considered – figuring out the “Whys” of your eating, I’d love for you to schedule a Free Consultation. It’s a time for you to talk to someone who really cares about your eating habits and get some ideas of simple, sustainable changes you can make to straighten up your relationship with food. Let’s talk! This one conversation could change your life.
Once you are clear on your “Why”, the “What”, “When”, and “How Much” become obvious.
(no obligation, and your data is safe with me)
Hi! I’m Jennifer. I want to help you heal your relationship with food. I believe you can move away from emotional eating and be able to trust yourself around food, and I can show you how. You can look forward to being free of the guilt and shame that comes with chronic obsession with diet and exercise. I invite you to a Free Consultation. The sooner the better. If you’re ready to feel confident and in charge of your life, now is the time. Your friend, Jennifer