When making decisions about eating, this basic but crucial question is often overlooked. That’s why it’s the starting point in the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Cycle. When we discussed this question during one of my recent Am I Hungry? workshops, one woman posed an interesting question:
“You asked why do we eat. But really, why not eat?”
We all laughed, but she raised a good point. After all, we eat for a variety of reasons other than hunger, among them:
- Food tastes good.
- It’s there.
- Other people are eating.
- It’s mealtime.
- The food is free (or the converse, I’ve paid for it, so I’m going to eat it).
- I’m tired.
- I’m feeling _______ (bored, stressed, happy, lonely, angry, depressed, etc.
One of the powerful lessons in the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Program is that you can choose to eat if you’re not hungry. Advice like, “If you’re not hungry, don’t eat” is no different from any other diet rules. Instead, the goal is to learn how to be in charge of the decisions you make. (Download chapter 1 of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat to understand this important difference.)
So, if you can choose to eat for reasons other than hunger, why wouldn’t you just choose to eat all the time? Well, you could! After all, we are constantly exposed to opportunities to eat, and we are constantly exposed to environmental and emotional triggers, and we are free to decide how we will respond.
For me, the answer to the question, “Why not eat?” is another question: “Is it worth eating when I’m not hungry or past the point of satiety, knowing that it might impact how I feel?”
Some of the reasons I might decide not to eat (or not to continue eating) include:
- Not wanting to feel sluggish, queasy, or unfocused.
- Not wanting my clothes to feel uncomfortably tight.
- Wanting to save room for a meal or a dessert later.
- Enjoying feeling content and not needing any more.
While I recognize the potential consequences, there are times when I decide that I’m willing to risk it. For instance, I stayed at a wonderful B & B with a multi-course breakfast–far more than I usually eat. Breakfast was included, so I’d already paid for it. My host was a French pastry chef so everything tasted amazing! I also knew I’d be walking and hiking all morning. For all those reasons, I consciously enjoyed every bite of my huge breakfast, then appreciated not thinking about food again as I explored the local sights.
Why eat? Why not eat? These are questions that each of us need to answer for ourselves every time we want to eat. Mindful eating simply teaches us to ask the questions because understanding your “why” is an essential first step to recreating your relationship with food.