The following article was written by Heinen’s Chief Dietitian, Melanie Jatsek RD, LD.
Babies are the only humans who eat solely to satisfy physical hunger. They haven’t yet learned to feed their emotions with food; that comes a little later (but not much later) in life. They’re downright brilliant! Think about it, a baby may cry when seeking comfort or when needing to let out a good burp, but if you come running with a bottle, they’ll refuse because that’s not what’s bugging her. Mom’s loving embrace or a gentle pat on the back are what they’re after.
We can learn so much from babies, after all, we used to be them.
Physical Hunger vs. Head Hunger
Physical hunger is an unmistakable and uncomfortable sensation triggering you to go on the hunt for food.
Emotional eating is when you use food to cope with life or when you find yourself eating when not physically hungry. I call it feeding your “head hunger.” The truth is, you may not even realize you’re engaged in emotional eating because you’ve been doing it for so long. It can feel quite normal to eat when you’re sad, bored, frustrated, lonely, tired, scared, anxious, happy, or __ (fill in the blank).
Confronting your head hunger starts with shining the light of awareness on the urge to eat. When practiced consecutively, the first three strategies below will help you do just that. The last three practices are designed to soothe your head hunger, just like a hug from mom.
The Power of Pause and a Breath
One conscious breath is all it takes to bring you into the present moment. And what’s so special about the present moment? It’s the only one you have, and it’s the most powerful one at that. It’s here where you can tune into your body and mind at a deeper level. By the way, babies spend 100% of their time in the present moment.
To practice this, quietly say to yourself “pause,” then take a long, slow, deep breath in, and let it out.
Rate Your Physical Hunger
Now that you are present, rate your physical hunger on a scale of 0 to 5.
- Level 0-1: You have low blood sugar and feel very hungry, light-headed, weak and even shaky. I refer to this level as urgent hunger.
- Level 2-3: Your stomach is quietly growling and you feel hungry, but the need for food isn’t urgent. I call this quiet hunger.
- Level 4-5: You aren’t physically hungry or full; you feel comfortable. This is what’s called satisfied. This is how babies feel when they let go of the bottle or breast.
The goal of head hunger is to convince you that you’re physically hungry. This exercise puts it in its place.
3 Questions to Ask Yourself
If you feel the urge to eat at a level 4 or above, it’s a sure sign that head hunger is knocking. The next step is to answer these questions:
- What is the emotion or situation I am trying to feed? (i.e., stress)
- Why do I feel this way? (i.e., I’m overwhelmed with end of the month projects at work!)
- What does my mind/body really need right now? (i.e., prayer, practice deep breathing exercises)
The following practices will help you soothe your head hunger.
Pour Your Heart Out
Open a journal or notebook and write out your feelings. There are no rules here. Let it all out: anger, fear, frustration, whatever! Write until you feel a loosening of the emotion that has a hold on you.
Let Yourself be Inspired
Read your favorite scripture verse or inspirational quote. Do this in a focused and mindful state. It’s a good idea to have these sources of inspiration readily available. My favorite scripture verse is the wallpaper on my phone!
Ask for Help
This one should be at the top of the list, but I wanted to save the best for last. Whenever you feel weak or lacking in “willpower,” it means you are relying on your own strength. Settle into the present moment and surrender your desire to control the situation to a higher power. Feel the peace that is always available to you. Stop trying to do this alone…you are never alone.
Emotional eating isn’t a sign of weakness. It just means you’ve allowed yourself to step out of the present moment, the place where all your power lives.