Have you ever walked into your kitchen, opened the fridge, and eaten a cup of sour cream with potato chips before realizing you’d only meant to get a glass of water?
That was me.
I was a rag doll in the fierce clutch of my rampaging hunger. At first, I felt like I couldn’t control my hunger at all. I tried to outsmart it by keeping healthy snacks around the house. That was a step in the right direction but not enough because I was still eating constantly. I was in a constant state of hunger. I started looking for a solution and found it, not in food, but in my relationship to the stuff (I do not, however, have a relationship with mustard greens. Evil stuff).
I started paying attention to why I was eating instead of only when and what I ate. I’ll go over the discovery process in a later post. For now, here are the five questions I ask myself before eating anything:
1. Am I dehydrated?
The simple truth is that most of us don’t drink enough water. When I began to ask myself this question before eating, I immediately stopped eating heavily after workouts. I substituted a glass of water and a piece of fruit for my post-workout kitchen assault and felt more energy within 20 minutes than if I’d eaten the full meal. 2. Am I trying to overcome emotions with food?
Also known as “emotional eating”. Boredom, sadness, anxiousness, and even positive feelings like exhilaration and ecstasy can create a “hunger” that seems very real. I had allowed eating to become my quick-fix during moments of high stress or intense emotion. I replaced the eating with exercise (let off steam, literally!), a phone call to a trusted friend, or a mug of tea (don’t hate on the tea-drinkers). Taking control of my emotional eating didn’t just reduce my food intake. It gave me a sense of power over my behavior that trickled over into how I dealt with the tension at hand! 3. Am I physically exhausted?
“Hi, I’m Seth and I’m a recovered energy drink addict.” It’s true. I was one of those guys who didn’t sleep well and guzzled refined sugars and caffeine to make up for it. By taking control of my wild sleep schedule and becoming an early riser (posting on this next week) I was able to go from four cans of Full Throttle a day to the occasional cup of coffee or tea. By asking myself “Am I eating because I’m tired?” I was able to distinguish between hunger because I missed lunch and hunger because my body needs to rest. 4. Am I eating to be polite?
If you’ve ever eaten dinner then gone to a friend’s party, discovered it’s actually a dinner party, and eaten dinner all over again, you know how hard it is to eat intelligently in social settings! When you’re at a social, work, or other occasion that involves food, remind yourself that eating “to be polite” need not include gorging yourself. Armed with my new outlook, I recently walked into a friend’s party-turned-dinner. Instead of being “polite” and eating a full meal, I told my friend I’d just eaten and asked if I could help out at all. He was delighted to have some help, and nobody asked why I wasn’t eating. (Confession: I did sit down for dessert. Warm apple pie with vanilla ice cream is not something I refuse easily) 5. Do I need to sustain my body?
If I’ve answered “NO” to the first four questions, I’ve found that there’s a solid chance I should answer “YES!” to the final question and fuel my body with something healthy that I enjoy eating. When you discover the joy of eating to fuel your body, you begin an adventure of grand proportions. I like the idea of having adventures that are larger than my waistline!
Once you’ve made a habit of asking these questions, it becomes less of a chore and more of a subliminal process.
You won’t see me standing in front of my fridge reciting these questions out loud (although it might be a good idea to print them out and put them on your fridge?) but you can be certain I’m running through the list in my head.