When Hunger Is NOT The Reason You Are Eating

One of my favorite activities is bike riding, and in the past year I’ve combined it with one of my other favorite activities — listening to books on tape.

I try to ride every day, though in Chicago the weather sometimes prohibits this. As a working, married mom, life often gets in the way, too. But I have been prioritizing my rides more and more, especially as my kids have gotten older, and I have increased them from an average of once a week to about three times a week.

I generally prefer to listen to non-fiction books that offer guidance on improving my life — as a business owner, a mother, or just as a person.

As I was listening to “Super Brain” by Deepak Chopra and Rudolph Tanzi, the author begins discussing weight and how our brains prevent us from losing weight when our minds want us to. I believe this issue is one that affects many women and even slows them down from achieving all they want because it causes them to be distracted by negative feelings or a negative self-image. The authors say when we decide to eat, it is generally for one of two reasons: Either we are hungry, or we are pacifying feelings.

If we are hungry, we generally eat until we are full. I know if I eat healthy food when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full, I don’t have to worry about gaining weight.

If we eat because we are pacifying feelings, the authors say we need to be aware of that to eventually train our brain to find new pathways to express those feelings.

The authors say when we express positive feelings, we generally do that by sharing those feelings with others — love, respect, kindness, etc. They say when we have negative feelings, we must release them in order for them to leave us. If we simply pacifying them, they remain in our minds just as toxic substances can remain in our bodies. I have read in multiple books that negative feelings in our mind can be just as destructive as toxic substances in our bodies.

So how do we release negative feelings? The authors did not say.

I know when I’m really angry at my kids, like I was last night when I asked my son more than 30 times to shut down the computer after midnight and he did not, that I begin to yell. And I usually continue to get louder and more angry until I can direct that anger into an action that I feel will solve the problem — like forcefully taking the computer and announcing that it will not be returned for a day or more.

Obviously, this is not the best way to release negative feelings. Because of my outburst, everyone in the house is on edge and feels bad, and we all go to bed uptight. Perhaps, I’m not really releasing my negative feelings at all. Perhaps my negative feelings aren’t against my son for using his electronics late but against me for letting my kids stay up later than I should. Maybe yelling and taking electronics is my way of pacifying the feelings I have against myself.

So what better ways would there be to release negative feelings? In my life, I’ve often turned to writing to put negative feelings on paper, which seemed to release them. Before kids, I would talk about negative feelings and seemed to release them through discussions with a close friend, but I don’t often have time for that in my life now (and neither do my friends). Some people might draw or play music to release those negative feelings.

And some turn to food. But eating is not releasing negative feelings, as the authors explain. It is only pacifying those feelings. The authors say if you are unhappy with your weight, then every time you are about to eat, you must determine whether or not you are really biologically hungry; if you are not, then they say you are pacifying feelings, and you must acknowledge that out loud.

All day long, I don’t generally think about eating unless I am hungry — until late in the evening. After activities and chores are done, and we are winding down our day, that is usually the only time that I think about eating unhealthy food. If I stay up after the rest of my family goes to sleep, working or reading, then I sometimes have a snack, and it’s often unhealthy.

I didn’t think I was pacifying negative feelings; I just thought I got more hungry at night than most people. But since that is usually the only time I eat junk food, perhaps I am pacifying feelings, and I didn’t know it. On nights I stay up late, I do often wish I could go to sleep, but I feel that I have work that I must finish or feel like I have a creative endeavor that I want to do but my hectic lifestyle prevents me from doing it while the rest of the world is awake. So perhaps that resentment at staying up in the first place may be causing me to reach for junk food.

When I was pregnant and ate a late-night snack, I would never have considered eating junk food — whether I was craving it or not. The first pregnancy book I read, “What To Expect When You’re Expecting,” made me realize I wanted to think about every bit of food and drink I put into my mouth and not consume anything that wasn’t healthy or anything that would be “empty” calories like sugar-filled drinks or desserts. I took this responsibility very seriously because I was so committed to being an overachiever mom as soon as I found out I was pregnant. I did this strictly because of my unborn child, but I was in fact doing myself a favor too. This commitment allowed me to keep my weight gain at a reasonable level and lose it after the baby was born, when I continued to maintain this obsession with only eating healthy food because I was nursing.

Once you adopt a desire to only eat healthy food, it becomes easier and easier to say no to unhealthy food. No matter how good it might taste, it’s just not in the realm of possible choices if it’s not healthy. And once you verbalize this over and over to other people, they stop offering you donuts in the break room and cake at a birthday party.

But it’s been so long since I’ve been pregnant, that I’ve gotten away from that commitment to only eat healthy food. I do it about 80% of the time, but I let the unhealthy food slip into my meals and snacks about 20% of the time. And I realized today that’s because I’m not as worried about my health as I was about that unborn baby’s health. But shouldn’t I be?

Why is it more important for mothers to insure our kids are eating healthy but not as important for us to insure that WE are eating healthy? Our kids are watching us, so we should know that if we are not eating healthy, we are not setting the example that we want them to follow.

So I need to treat my health with as much importance as I treat theirs. I have even more control over my own eating choices than I do over theirs, especially because my kids are 12 and 14 years old. They spend more time away from home than when they were younger, and eat far more junk food than they did when I was making all their meals.

So the next time I stay up late and decide to have a snack while I’m writing or reading, I’ll follow Chopra’s advice and say out loud if I’m pacifying feelings. And if I still decide to eat, I’ll try to pick the kind of snack I would have had when I was pregnant and focused on insuring that every calorie I consumed had some nutritional value. Because as mothers, we need to remember that our health is just as important as our children’s health — physically, mentally and emotionally — because we can only be the best possible mother that we want to be, if we work as hard on maintaining our health as we do on maintaining our kids’ health.

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