Are you eating right now? If so, do you recall being hungry before taking your first bite? Probably not. With so many holiday treats around us 24/7 right now, it’s almost impossible to remember the last time you felt hungry.
I can relate because I’m an emotional eater and I gravitate toward food when I’m stressed, tired, overworked or just anxious. Whenever #$%! hits the fan,you’ll find me in front of the fridge. I’ve recently decided to work on this bad fat habit by using a hunger scale and listening to my body instead of my head before and after I eat. Using a hunger scale during this eating season is one of the best ways to keep the scale steady.
If you’re like me and you eat when you’re stressed or feeling anxious, you’re not alone. Most of us eat for many reasons—rather than eating only when we’re hungry. Stress, loneliness, sadness, anxiety, depression and boredom are emotions that drive us straight to food in the hopes of making us feel better. I call this the Bridget Jones’s Diary phenomenon. I can recall numerous breakups that have sent me straight to the gummy candies!Unfortunately, stuffing our emotions with food does little to soothe those feelings, and in the long run, may make matters worse. Most emotional eaters struggle to keep body weight in check and often feel bad about themselves after eating.
In addition to dealing with our daily emotions, we’re also exposed to hundreds or thousands of environmental cues that also cause many of us to overeat. Large restaurant portions, pizza-sized dinner plates; mouth-watering images of treats on TV, online and in print; and strategically designed supermarkets are just a few of the ways our daily environment encourages us to overeat and not listen to our own internal hunger and fullness cues.
All of us have the ability to control our calories, but you just have to listen to your body. Using the hunger scale below, try to eat when your body feels like a 4 on the scale and stop when it’s about 6-7. You want to avoid being so hungry that you overeat and at the same time, you don’t want to eat until you’re Christmas-dinner full or ready-to-unzip-my-pants full.
Your body will metabolize and utilize foods best when you eat the right amounts at the right times. This strategy also works to help us from caving in to cravings for less healthy choices. If you binge on foods, using the hunger scale will essentially stop binges because most binge-eating stems from emotions rather than true physical hunger.
- Keep a food journal for 5-7 days and make sure you mark where your hunger is from 1-10 before and after eating.
- Try to keep your hunger controlled and within the 4-7 range on the scale. (When you wake up, it’s okay if you’re a 2.)
- When you’re eating a meal, take a few minutes to pause during the meal to assess your hunger. If you’re still below a 6, continue eating. Remember, it takes 15-20 minutes for the stomach to provide the brain signals of fullness so take your time at meals, and get to know your body and when you need to stop eating to reach the feeling of 7 after a meal.
After a week, you should start to develop a healthier relationship with food and be more attune to listening for, and feeding, your hunger. Use the scale for as long and as much as you think you need it. I keep a copy handy in the kitchen and dining room so that it always reminds me to use it. I also keep a journal and have a hunger scale taped to the inside cover to keep the tool top of mind.
Let us know how it works for you.
–Julie Upton, MS, RD, CSSD