Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Myth Busted – If You’re Not Hungry, Don’t Eat

On the surface, this seems like very sensible advice. We should only eat if we’re hungry. In fact, why would people eat if they weren’t hungry? From years of experience working with overweight people, I can tell you that there are many reasons people eat besides hunger. People eat to relieve stress; some find food takes their mind off of the stressor while others choose crunchy foods to expend the energy that is building up. Sometimes people eat to be social and “fit in,” perhaps succumbing to peer pressure. Workplaces are filled with opportunities to feel the need to eat. Often people eat to decrease fatigue, when what they really lack is enough sleep. Some folks eat out of habit, because it’s mealtime or because they always eat when they come home from school. A major reason people eat too much is because it tastes good. This common restaurant behavior brings up one last reason diners overeat – because they paid for it. For most people, eating is an enjoyable activity, and people generally seek to have more pleasure in their lives.

These are not good reasons to eat when we’re not hungry, it’s true. However, there are times when a person should eat even if she or he is not hungry, such as upon rising in the morning or after several daytime hours without eating. There are various reasons people sometimes don’t feel hunger, including having a history of calorie restricted dieting or being physically ill. Depression, grief, and anxiety are other common reasons hunger is diminished. Some sedentary people rarely feel tremendously hungry. It’s important to pay attention to your body signals and emotional states. Going more than four hours during the day without eating causes the metabolism to drop as the body strives to preserve energy. It also may result in overeating later in the day.

We need a consistent source of energy (calories) to function well during the day, so don’t let a lack of hunger have you go all day without eating. This is true even if you’re trying to lose weight. Have convenient, healthy snacks on hand, such as nuts, fruit, yogurt, low fat granola bars or popcorn, whole wheat crackers or pretzels, or cheese sticks. You wouldn’t let your car run out of fuel; don’t let your irreplaceable vehicle run out either.

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