Monthly Focus: Navigating Emotional Hunger

Monthly Focus: Navigating Emotional Hunger

Week 3

In our Monthly Focus thus far, we’ve learned about our innate and biological need to feed, as well as clear ways to differentiate between a very real, physical hunger and one that’s more emotional or habitual in nature.

More often than not, we find ourselves eating when we’re not hungry. Dubbed stress eating, emotional eating, or even overeating, this type of hunger is driven by behavior, habit, or some form of emotion, rather than an actual biological need for more energy.

Last week, we touched on one mindful eating practice that–when used often–can help you overcome emotional, transient urges to eat when you’re not truly hungry. But that was just one of many ways you can start to hack your hunger habits.

Here are other exercises to practice the next time you find yourself eating out of habit, not hunger.

Try This

Eat until you’re no longer hungry, not until you’re full

If we start to think of food as an actual fuel source (and a means to adding energy to our cells), then, logically, we would only need to eat until those cells are refueled. Once cells are properly refueled, we no longer feel hungry. But we’re not at a fullness level just yet. Putting the bag of nuts away once you indulge your hunger will prevent mindless snacking or overeating.

Pinpoint the feeling that’s driving the urge

Think about when you’re feeling anxious. Has that ever caused a feeling to indulge with food? Sometimes we incorrectly reach for a chocolate bar to soothe those anxious emotions, rather than finding a calming remedy to lessen the anxiety. Rather than mindlessly giving in to those eating sensations, take a moment to pinpoint the exact emotion you’re feeling and what’s causing it; then, choose the response mechanism that will provide you with true relief.

Take a pause

What often happens is we have a thought and we act on that thought. Instead, we need to take a pause between thought and behavior. Once you've nailed the exact emotion you're feeling and why you're feeling it, take a breath. Or a few. Separate yourself from those thoughts that are driving your emotion–which is driving the behavior–with a big pause.

Dismantle the thought

Deconstruct the story that’s happening in your mind. Question the thought (or thoughts) that is propelling your emotions and behaviors. Is this thought actually true? Can you absolutely know that it’s true? For example, you might feel lonely because no one is responding to your texts. This feeling of loneliness may cause you to tell yourself you have no one. This thought may lead to even more thoughts of loneliness; in turn, those thoughts may cause you to turn to food for comfort. These thoughts feel so true in the moment. But if you pull back, put inthe emotional work, and dismantle the thought process, those thoughts start to become undone and you can determine your true reality.

Have a mantra

Think of a word, phrase, or sound to repeat to quiet and calm your thoughts and feelings. You could use something as simple as “this too shall pass” or “calm.” Even simple sounds like “ho hum” work well. The purpose of these sayings and sounds is to give you something to direct your attention towards other than your thoughts. In moments of mindless eating, use your mantra to redirect your mind.

Be of service

Small acts of kindness and service give us the same dopamine hit in the brain as a drug or a donut. In a moment where you’re feeling trapped by thought-driven behavior, lean into little acts of kindness. It could be something as simple as telling your best friend why they mean so much to you over text, or heading to the homeless shelter to serve dinner. Not only do these acts of service stimulate a dopamine response, they take you out of that thought process that fuels unwanted behavior.

Many of us turn to food for comfort–rather than true hunger–when our thoughts start to control our behavior. But once we realize what’s happening, we can take the steps needed to dissolve those thoughts, which–in turn–can influence our feelings and behaviors.

It’s an inside job: doing the work within can lead to little wins on the outside that bring us joy. And it’s all about those little wins that add up to your best, most wonderful life.

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Mary Elizabeth Adams
Apr 01, 2021

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