You know that sudden urge to raid the fridge or the pantry? That growling sound of your stomach saying “Hello? I’d like some food…stat!” You see, sometimes, it’s not about the food at all. Sometimes, we can feel like this even with our bellies being completely full — and we’re not able to figure it out.
Hunger is a signal that our hormones (specifically, ghrelin) send to our brain to let us know our bodies need nutrients. Being full, or satiated, on the other hand, is also a signal our hormones (specifically, leptin) send to our brain to let us know we’ve had enough food and now it’s time to digest. Sounds so simple, right? Well, when emotions enter the equation, it gets a bit more complicated.
Sadness, anger, anxiety, depression, and even happiness can disrupt our hormone-to-brain connections and cause delays, breaks, or bundles of too much information our bodies can’t process correctly. Not knowing what to do, we go into “alert mode” where all of our senses get heightened, and we either lose our appetite or suddenly feel like we’re starving. That’s why some people lose and some gain weight when going through a breakup, loads of stress at work, or even when they fall in love. Butterflies in the stomach are a wonderful feeling, but they can also be a problem if they eat away at our appetite.
Since there are two possible emotional eating syndromes (undereating and overeating), there are also two ways to approach them.
If you’re undereating and having trouble finding your appetite, set a timer on your phone to check with yourself every 3 hours and get something to eat. Your meals don’t have to be big, but getting into a habit of “teaching” your body to receive food at certain times can override the hormonal imbalances caused by emotions.
If you’re struggling to feel satiated and find yourself staring at your fridge multiple times of day, or constantly reaching for that bag of chips you keep in your desk drawer, before you take any action that involves food, pause for a second, take a couple of big breaths and try to be in the present moment. Simply focus on what’s around you: the sights, the smells, the ground beneath your feet. Did the hunger urge stop? If not, maybe you’re really hungry, but if you feel fine, take that as a sign you’re probably better off with waiting a bit longer.
In either scenario, keeping a diary of what you’ve eaten throughout the day will definitely keep you aware of what’s behind your eating routine. In order for this to work though, make sure to write down what you ate immediately after you ate it. That way you’ll be able to keep yourself accountable and maybe even discover patterns you tend to repeat every day.
These practices will help you get more in tune with your body and pretty soon you’ll be back in control of your eating habits.