By Megrette Fletcher, MEd, RD, CDCES, Co-author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes
Why do people eat past comfortable fullness, eat when they are not hungry, or eat in a mindless way? Eating provides pleasure or a temporary distraction. For example, if you are feeling bored, eating distracts you and gives you something to do for a little while. If you see a big tray of brownies, eating one or two might be pleasurable for a few moments. The pleasure or distraction is initially satisfying, so you eat more than you need, which drives what Michelle May, M.D. , describes as an overeating cycle. Regardless if it is caused by a feeling that gives you pleasure, an experience you would rather avoid or something unpleasant, we will call the desire to eat a trigger.
When are you triggered?
There are conscious or unconscious physical, environmental and emotional triggers. Let’s take a close look at physical cues to eat. Some examples are hunger, changing blood sugar, thirst, fatigue and pain.
In this post, we are going to focus on hunger.
Hunger is a natural and normal feeling that signals the need for fuel. Many people don’t realize that hunger isn’t a static feeling. Unawareness of hunger can cause you to suddenly experience a unpleasant level hunger, which can tempt you to overeat. If this is the case, mindful eating can be very helpful. Checking in with your physical hunger more often is a great way to evaluate how hungry you are. Pause and determine if you are physically hungry. You can do this by asking yourself, “Am I hungry?® ” If you are not sure, you might try to touch your hunger. If you find yourself pointing to a part of the body below the neck, it is likely you are physically hungry. Now ask, “How hungry am I?” You can use the hunger/fullness rating scale to give this feeling a number. If you rate your hunger as a 2, starving, it is likely you will need to eat more food to fill this hunger than if your hunger rates a 4, pangs.
How to solve the feeling of hunger without overeating
Take a moment to look at the Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes Plate. You will see that the foods in the upper right-hand corner contain carbohydrates. These foods will have the greatest impact on your blood sugar. If your hunger is a 2, starving, eating a variety of foods including those which are lower in carbohydrates will help fill your hunger. In the plate diagram, you will see that low-carbohydrate vegetables and protein-containing foods like lean deli meat, low-fat cheese, tuna fish and cottage cheese offer volume and calories without driving up blood sugars. There is also a wonderful list with more ideas on page 214 in Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes. Checking in and asking yourself, “Am I hungry?” is an excellent initial step to identify if the reason why you are eating is hunger. Hunger is a dynamic feeling that is changing all the time so it is a great idea to ask this question before meals and snacks. Use the Mindful Eating Cycle to learn more about your triggers and the Hunger/Fullness rating scale to guide you in this evaluation. Listen to the answer and set the intention to fill this hunger where it is – starving, pangs or even having a taste. When you come to the point of deciding What to eat? Choose a variety of foods, including some of the many foods that are lower in carbohydrates to help you reach a comfortable level of fullness while keeping blood sugar levels in target.