Are You Eating for the Right Reasons?
Why you should be practicing mindful eating, how to tell if you're an emotional eater and when it's the right time to eat.
We all have our moments with comfort food, whether you're going through a rough day and find solace in several cupcakes or you feel good about working out and "reward" yourself with greasy fries. What we eat has a powerful tie to how we feel and, unfortunately, we rely on the worst food to uplift our mood. Registered dietitian Jenna Hollenstein, Nutrition Ambassador for Just Salad, knows about this connection well thanks to her work through Eat to Love. As an intuitive eating counselor, she works to help people gain control of their food intake.
We spoke with Hollenstein to break down what it really means to be an emotional eater and how to train the body to be more in tune with hunger. Surprisingly, the latter is an instinct we lose touch with as we get older and learn different cues to eat, like time of day and occassions. Read on for her fascinating take on one of the most crucial issues affecting our bodies.
How can you determine if you are an emotional eater?
"To determine whether you are an emotional eater, as opposed to someone who eats in a chaotic way because she has gotten way too hungry, it's important to become aware of and respond to your body's natural hunger cues. Once you've re-discovered what it feels like when your body is hungry or satisfied, it becomes more clear when you eat for other reasons like strong emotions—anger, sadness, loneliness—or boredom. Basically, if you use food to change the way you feel, emotional eating may be at play."
What steps do you need to take to overcome emotional eating?
"The first step is making sure that you're eating enough. If your body is in a constant state of deprivation, it's very difficult to distinguish whether you are eating out of extreme hunger or for emotional reasons. Next, you can start to check in with yourself and with your body. When you feel the urge to eat something, you can develop the habit of checking with your body to determine whether it's hungry. If you are, eat! If you determine you're not, however, you can ask yourself some important questions, like "what am I feeling right now?" And "what do I need to do to take care of myself?" The more we develop the habit of slowing down, connecting with the body, and asking ourselves key questions (without judgment), the more information will arise. I'm a huge proponent of mindfulness for overcoming emotional overeating, whether it be simple breathing exercises, or straight up meditation."
Can you elaborate on how you define "mindfulness"?
"The basic tenants of mindful eating include eating primarily for physical reasons, slowing down and placing singular focus on what you're eating, using all your senses to enjoy the eating experience (from choosing beautiful, colorful produce and various pleasing textures to savoring each bite), prioritizing quality over quantity, and eating for satisfaction. More and more proponents of mindful eating are also placing focus on knowing where your food comes from, choosing local and organic when possible, and contributing to the bigger picture by eating sustainably."
What tips do you have for learning how to eat based on hunger cues?
"Pay attention! And notice the gradients of hunger that go from 'not hungry' to 'a little hungry' to 'hungry' to 'very hungry,' to 'starving.' Try to avoid extreme hunger and eat when 'hungry' or 'a little hungry.' I think of this as having an ongoing conversation with your body. When you first get hungry, your body might only whisper, but the longer you go without responding by eating, the louder the requests get.
The other big one is to eat for satisfaction. This often means choosing a combination of complex carbs (whole fruits and veggies, whole grains, beans), fiber (all of the previous plus nuts and seeds), protein (eggs, cheese, chicken, tofu, beans, salmon and shrimp), and healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds) that provide both satisfying tastes and nutrients and pleasurable mouthfeel and textures."