Are you hungry, really?

I led a 5 day challenge to eat when hungry & stop when full. Here's what happened and how it can help you.

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Are you hungry?  Wait, really?

I recently led a 5 day challenge and the rules were simple. Eat only when you’re hungry and stop eating when you’re full. I warned participants that although it was simple it probably wouldn’t be easy. I created this challenge to help others, get some feedback on the challenges this simple habit might incur and to work on my own habit of eating because the clock says to and eating while distracted. Because even though I’m a health coach, I’m still human.

The first couple of days for me were humming along then on day 3 I noticed I was still looking for distractions while eating. I realized I’ve been eating this way since I was a child way before the days of social media and electronics overload. I’ve always been a voracious reader and when I was a young child I’d grab anything nearby to read while eating if it was available. I’d even read all 4 sides of the cereal box if it was on the table. I’ve always celebrated the fact that I’m an avid reader and I still think it’s a great quality. However, I now see how this was the start of a lifelong habit of tuning out while I eat. Since starting this challenge I’ve been working on putting away the distractions and really tuning in to being grateful for the food that I have and the look, smell, taste and texture of my food. I can’t say I’ve completely mastered the art of total focus on my meals 24/7 but I’ve made some improvements and that feels good.

A 2013 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition studied the effects of eating while distracted and confirms what participants experienced in our 5 day challenge, eating while distracted can lead to increased food intake. Participants in the challenge also mentioned they often found themselves reaching for food when they were bored. I know this can be a common challenge for lots of people. I suggest if this is something that you struggle with on a regular basis that you take a few minutes and create a list of things you can do instead of eating out of boredom. Be sure to include activities that make it difficult to eat at the same time. TV? Nah pretty easy to grab a bag of pumpkin spice Doritos then right? Wait, those aren’t a thing? I figure it’s only a matter of time. On the other hand a hobby that keeps your hands busy and out of the kitchen can help you be more successful. Some ideas that might work for you are, knitting or other crafting projects, giving yourself a manicure or pedicure, folding laundry and going for a walk or a bike ride.

Here’s the great news. If you can occupy yourself with something other than eating for just 15-20 minutes the desire to eat out of boredom, stress, exhaustion and other emotions should wane. I would also recommend that if mindless snacking is an issue that you remove your trigger foods from your home. If that’s not an option because you don’t live alone and the other people in your home would riot then divide them into individual servings and keep them out of sight and hard to reach. When trying to avoid a bad habit making it inconvenient is very helpful.

At the end of the 5 day challenge participants report that they are more in tune with their hunger and fullness cues, in the morning they are actually hungry for breakfast and in general have more awareness about their eating. I personally plan to continue with this sustainable habit as it’s something I can incorporate into my healthy lifestyle going forward. One last tip, if pumpkin spice Doritos ever happen, just say no.

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