When we want to lose weight, our focus is usually on what foods to eat and ways to eat less. After all, that’s where the calories come from and that’s what the diet industry tells us is important. The problem is, our eating plan is only one part of the equation.
Diets and food plans don’t take into consideration the many factors that motivate us to eat. They don’t address our complex appetites and hungers. Sometimes it’s actually physical hunger—a need for fuel—that triggers our desire to eat, but many of us also reach for food for other reasons–when life gets demanding or we get tired or we just don’t feel quite “right.”
Overeating and weight gain occur when we use food to try to fill or make up for unaddressed gaps or needs in the rest of our lives. Sometimes we know we are eating in response to a need that isn’t really hunger, and sometimes, our tendency to feed our feelings and other needs with food is so ingrained, that we don’t even think about it. If we’ve spent a long time learning to address needs and feelings with food, over time we may actually experience a “physical” sensation of hunger instead of feeling nervous, lonely, bored or needy.
Taking control of overeating requires taking a close look at the rest of your life and making sure that you are getting what you need. Ignored or unfed needs and feelings increase the chances that you will find yourself standing at the refrigerator with a craving that just won’t go away. The craving won’t go away because using food to feed it doesn’t really address the real need or the problem. It might push it away for awhile, but I guarantee you, the issue, and the “hunger,” will come back.
So–are you living a well-balanced life? Are you feeding your mind, your body, and your spirit? It is much easier to avoid the munchies if you are feeding yourself in these high-quality ways:
Hungers that lead to emotional eating and overeating:
Hunger for rest
Many Americans, especially women, don’t get enough sleep. Research shows that insufficient sleep contributes to weight gain—and get this—at least some of the weight gain is not related to how many calories are eaten! Lack of sleep also triggers physiological mechanisms that lead to increased appetite and cravings for high-carbohydrate and high-calorie foods. Sleep deprivation affects brain chemistry which impacts how hungry we are and the kind of foods we crave. This one is a no-brainer. If you aren’t feeding your hunger for rest, you are behind before you start.
Hunger for connection
Remember social studies class? Humans are social beings. We need other people. Connection comes in the form of close relationships, support, feeling understood and listened to, companionship, physical touch and connection, and shared experiences (tears, laughter, even being bored together).
If we don’t have enough connection, we may attempt to cope by telling ourselves we don’t really need it. Low self-esteem, weight struggles, and self-blame can all lead to isolation. If we’re busy or tired or stressed, it’s easy to convince ourselves that we just don’t have the energy to connect with others (and we might not—one unfed life area tends to snowball into others pretty quickly).
Eating out of loneliness is a major trigger for overeating, and, as lonely people often realize, loneliness is not always a feeling that has a “quick fix.” Our social connections take time to develop and they require nurturing, so take an inventory of how well you are consistently feeding and caring for the growth of connections in your life. Don’t get discouraged if you aren’t where you want to be. Think about what small seed you could plant today to start to increase your connectedness with others.
Taste is just one of the senses we need to feed. We vary in our specific hungers for sights, smells, sound, and touch. Whatever your appetites, you’ll do yourself a favor if you learn how to feed all your senses.
It’s no accident that beauty is sometimes referred to as a “visual feast.” Our need for beauty might involve exposure to art or nature, attention to color in our homes, our clothes, or a new lipstick color. How much physical sensation do you have in your life? Think about physical touch and intimacy, but also think about whether you have experiences of day-to-day pleasure in your body. Do you dance or feel the sun on your face or get a massage or enjoy a great shoulder stretch after a day at the computer? These are all ways of feeding your sense of touch. What about sound? Music is a great mood regulator. Others need a break from sound—quality quiet time. And don’t forget about smell. Our sense of smell is closely tied to taste and it’s important not to neglect it. Savor the aroma of the food you do eat. Breath deep when you go outdoors, explore great smelling herbal teas that envelope you with their heat and their aroma. Invest in lotion that smells fantastic.
A fundamental part of being alive is continuing to evolve and transform. We have a real need to keep improving, growing or working towards becoming the people we are meant to be. The opposite of growth is stagnation, which the dictionary defines as “becoming sluggish and dull; ceasing to flow; or becoming stale or foul.” Not an appealing picture is it?
Is personal growth on your priority list? Do you try new things and stretch outside of your comfort zone a bit? Do you come in contact with new people, new thoughts, new activities or ideas? Do you have goals and plans for the future—that have nothing to do with your eating your weight? Feeding a hunger for growth means allowing yourself time, opportunity and resources to nurture your goals and dreams. It means, at times, thinking outside of the boundaries of your day-to-day life. How are you doing in this area? Can you enhance your growth in one small way?
Hunger for play and fun
It sounds so easy, but for many, making sure they have enough play and fun in their life can be difficult. When we have a lot of important responsibilities it can be tempting to let play and fun fall off the priority list. We can also get so focused on making sure everyone else gets their plan and fun in (we almost always get the kids to soccer practice don’t we?) that we convince ourselves there just isn’t time for our needs. People who don’t get enough play and fun usually fall into one of two categories. Either they don’t think about play and fun very often and their “fun muscles” are rusty—they can’t list 5-10 activities they really love without REALLY thinking about it, OR they have a long list of things they love but aren’t being successful at carving out the time for themselves.
Both are a problem. The hunger is real, and it doesn’t go away. In the short run, it might feel like “treating yourself” with a snack is easier than figuring out how to fit more fun in, but in the end, it won’t eliminate the craving—at least not for long.
The good news is that weight loss success is not necessarily about deprivation. A powerful tool in the battle to curb overeating involves learning to give ourselves more of what we truly need. Creating a well-fed, well-balanced life is not always easy and we can’t always do it perfectly—but most of us can do a better job than we are doing now. Even if we don’t know where to start, being able to clearly define the unfed needs, the REAL hungers that we could take better care of, is a huge step. Once we start to learn what we are really hungry for, we can start to tackle the problem head-on. That’s the kind of process that leads to enduring change and lasting weight loss.