We all know that person. The person who can ‘eat whatever they want’ and seem to stay healthy and fit. If they are not hungry, they may turn down the chocolate cake. If they are not hungry they might even skip a meal. If they want the cheesecake, they have it and enjoy it. There was a time in history when we are all eating “instinctively”.
So what drives the instinctive eater? Hunger, pure and simple.
For the instinctive eater, eating is driven by a need for fuel. Their tummy is empty and that is the trigger to seek out nourishment. Their need to eat is not driven by emotions, or environmental cues it’s purely a physical need. That doesn’t mean they never eat when they are not hungry, sometimes we’re in situations where it would be socially unacceptable to not do so. But they will probably feel like eating less the next day, and just get on with it falling right back into the cycle.
They eat the food that makes them feel good and enjoy it as a pleasurable experience and not something that has power over them. They feel no need to “exercise it off” the next day, they enjoy balance, variety, moderation and what’s available.
They are also in charge of the amount that they eat. They are able to moderate amounts in relation to their hunger and fullness cues.
Our ancestors would have been the ultimate instinctive eaters. As our children (have you ever tried to feed a toddler when they weren’t hungry?). But, over the course of our lives, for some reason or another, many of us tend to lose the ability to listen to our own hunger cues.
So how do we reclaim this natural ability to listen to our bodies? Practice!
Practice pressing pause
This means whenever possible, stop before grabbing the food. You may need a note on your fridge door or it could mean putting the comfort foods in a different area of the house. This helps to remove the automatic response that leads to eating from a place of disconnect. Once you’ve managed to pause.
Ask yourself the simple question: “Am I hungry?”
If you’re not sure, ask yourself if you could eat broccoli or Brussels sprouts?
Chances are if you’re wanting chocolate but not broccoli you’re probably not hungry. Which is fine but knowing so gives you choice.
Real hunger is physical, and what drives emotional eating is well, emotional! Again, there is a time and a place for emotional eating and there is nothing wrong with the occasional comfort food when other options are in the ‘too hard basket’.
We need to ditch the guilt overall.
However, it’s also great to have a toolkit of other strategies that you can use as an alternative to food when you’re able.