Hunger games: Do you know why you eat?

Learning to listen to your body's cues can be one of the most powerful ways to manage your weight. Here's how to do it.

Think about the last time you ate. Were you hungry? Bored? Satisfying a craving?

When you're trying to lose weight, paying attention to when you eat — and why — may help you to cut back on calories and manage your weight.

Tune into your body

Eat when you're hungry; stop when you're full. It sounds simple, right? But triggers to eat are all around, and they often have nothing to do with hunger: the candy on a co-worker's desk when you're stressed, or the brightly colored fast-food sign. Unfortunately, frequently giving in to cues like these can lead to extra pounds. Here are some strategies to become more aware of the "why," the "when" and the "how" of your eating habits and gain control:

  • Develop an eating routine that works for you. Some people do well with three meals a day, and others prefer eating more-frequent snacks. But skipping meals or letting yourself get too hungry can lead to overeating and poor food choices — and may even cause your metabolism to slow.
  • Don't ignore hunger. Research suggests that being too restrictive with your food may also make you less in tune with your body's internal cues that help you adjust your eating throughout the day — for example, eating less at dinner if you had a big lunch. Take your body's cues and have a healthy snack or meal before your stomach is growling.
  • Avoid fast food. Not just restaurants; avoid any food that you eat on the go or while focusing on another activity. When you mindlessly snack while multitasking — driving, watching TV or working on your computer — research suggests you're likely to eat more both at that meal and later on. Instead, make a habit of sitting down to eat from a plate, and choose foods that take longer to eat, such as a whole orange rather than a glass of juice.
  • Fill up on water. Water isn't a magic bullet for weight loss. But sipping between bites, and eating fruits, veggies or soups (all of which contain water) may still help to encourage the feeling of fullness and lead to eating fewer total calories.

Consider your "why"

When you want to nibble, first H.A.L.T.: Ask yourself if you're Hungry, or if you're really Angry, Lonely or Tired. When it's really emotions you're managing, experiment with alternatives to food. For example, call a friend or go for a walk.

Before eating, get in the habit of pausing to rate your hunger. Think of a scale from 1 to 10 where 1 is starving and 10 is stuffed. Aim to eat when you're at a "3" (somewhat hungry, but not yet starving), and stop when you're at a "6" or a "7" (slightly full or satisfied, but not Thanksgiving stuffed).

If you truly are hungry between meals or planned snacks, reach for something high in nutritional density and low in calorie density such as fruit or vegetables to keep hunger at bay.

Enjoy your food

One of the healthiest dietary habits you can learn is simply enjoying the experience of eating. Instead of focusing on counting calories or banning certain foods, try turning off the TV and putting away your phone while you refuel.

Take in the aroma and taste each bite. Chew thoroughly. Put down your fork between bites and enjoy the company of your dining companions. And before reaching for seconds, check in with your hunger.

Using these simple mindfulness practices can help you to balance your diet and eat well not just today, but for life.

May 22, 2018 See more In-depth