It seems that our everyday life keeps getting busier and busier! Between work, taking care of kids, and keeping up with household chores, it can be difficult to find time to stop and think about the food we are consuming. Distractions of daily life and work can distract us from enjoying the people around us and the meals that we’ve created. Practicing mindfulness, also related to intuitive eating, can help us in making healthful choices and decide if we’re actually still hungry or just having a craving. When practicing mindfulness, this allows you to refocus on hunger cues and not emotional cues such as stress, boredom, or comfort.
How do you know if you’re hungry?
If you’re not sure whether you’re physically hungry or just craving something to snack on, utilizing the Hunger-Satiety Scale below can be one tool that helps you identify when you need to fuel your body.1
10 – Extremely stuffed, nauseous
9 – Stuffed, very uncomfortable
8 – Overfull, somewhat uncomfortable
7 – Full, but not uncomfortable
6 – Satisfied, but could eat a little more
5 – Starting to feel hungry
4 – Hungry, stomach growling
3 – Uncomfortably hungry, distracted
2 – Very hungry, low energy, weak
1 – Starving, no energy, weak
Staying within zones 4-7 is ideal because 4 is when your hunger cues kick in and fueling your body to 7 leaves you satisfied. Nutritional needs are going to vary based on each person’s activity level and metabolic differences, so two people who eat the same meal, may be at different levels on the hunger-satiety scale. So how do you know when you’re hungry?
Keeping a food diary can be a helpful way to identify what times of the day your hunger levels increase, when you’re stressed, anxious, or mad, or when you just want to eat due to boredom. Some of these emotions trigger a response in our brain to release cortisol, which can stimulate ghrelin, our hunger hormone.2 Journaling doesn’t have to be just writing down your meals. You could write down what you ate, what time you ate, and how you were feeling before and after you at that meal/snack. After a few days, take a look and find a common trend and list the common triggers of when you tend to eat.4
Many social environments involve food and beverages, and it can be tough to avoid some of those temptations. So, what do you do instead? Avoiding the snacks or meals all-in-all is easier said than done. However, finding healthier swaps or activities can be very rewarding. For example, instead of eating buttery and salty popcorn while watching a movie, try air popped popcorn that is lightly salted. If pop is always your go-to when visiting with family, try a bubbly water that still gives flavor and bubbly feel. To avoid snacking when you’re not physically hungry, try finding something other than food/beverages that you enjoy such as, walking, knitting, reading a book, puzzles, etc.
How long does it take you to eat a meal? Do you wait before going back for seconds? One easy way to identify if you’re full or not is to wait at least 20 minutes before going back for more. This gives your stomach enough time to signal to your brain that you are full.3 Drinking a cup of water with each meal can help with fullness, but also hydration. Serving a meal on a smaller plate can be very appealing to the eye because it seems like you’re eating more than you really are. I’ve also suggested to clients to eat with smaller utensils as this will lead to smaller bites and slowing down.
Avoiding distractions while eating by turning off the tv and eating your meals at the dinner table can help with mindfulness. You’re able to focus on the task at hand and really enjoy your meal! Having a meal with your family can also be a way to destress from work or other life obstacles that you encountered that day, which could go hand-in-hand with the avoidance of stress eating at night.
Mindful eating takes time and effort, but with continuous practice you will soon learn to identify when your body needs fuel verses just wanting to eat. If you need more tips and tricks, connect with your lifestyle consultant or Registered Dietitian to personalize guidance to you.