Why You Eat

Intuitive eating is a great idea… in theory.  The premise is that you can listen to your body so that you always provide it with the perfect amount of energy that it needs.  And in theory, that’s true.  But I couldn’t help but think that the intuitive eating people miss two key points: 

 

  1. Cavemen and small children are perfect intuitive eaters. But neither group of human were or are expected to play modern Culture’s Game.  The rules of biology play their own Game.

 

  1. You are already an excellent intuitive eater. We eat when our Animal Brain tells us to.  But it’s not likely to be telling us to find a cheese wedge at 11pm because you’re starving.  We don’t always eat food because we’re hungry.  Honouring that shout for food is very intuitive of you, but it may not always be resourceful.

 

And so, whilst it is vital to tune in to your body and respect your hunger and fullness signals, that’s not the whole journey.  Sorry!  You still have some work to do.  But embrace the process, not many people get to understand their body and mind as much as you are learning to.

Intuitive eating is a great idea… in theory.  The premise is that you can listen to your body so that you always provide it with the perfect amount of energy that it needs.  And in theory, that’s true.  But I couldn’t help but think that the intuitive eating people miss two key points: 

 

  1. Cavemen and small children are perfect intuitive eaters. But neither group of human were or are expected to play modern Culture’s Game.  The rules of biology play their own Game.

 

  1. You are already an excellent intuitive eater. We eat when our Animal Brain tells us to.  But it’s not likely to be telling us to find a cheese wedge at 11pm because you’re starving.  We don’t always eat food because we’re hungry.  Honouring that shout for food is very intuitive of you, but it may not always be resourceful.

 

And so, whilst it is vital to tune in to your body and respect your hunger and fullness signals, that’s not the whole journey.  Sorry!  You still have some work to do.  But embrace the process, not many people get to understand their body and mind as much as you are learning to.

Hunger is just one of the many reasons that you decide to eat.   And it’s important to continue to pay attention and learn what hunger feels like for you.  But it does become a little more complicated because Culture and our Animal Brain have provided us a stack load more reasons to eat…

SOCIAL AND CELEBRATION: Eating has always been a social affair amongst humans.  I can better imagine a caveman tribe sitting around a fire to cook and eat, than I can them each sitting in separate corners of the cave eating in silence.  Culture has also told us to pair human-made celebrations with specific types of food – cake on birthdays, turkey at Christmas or Thanksgiving, popcorn at cinemas… the list goes on.

ENVIRONMENTAL CUES: The sight, smell, even thought of food makes us feel hungry.  This must have been useful to humans 100,000 years ago, to ensure we hunted and gathered our way to enough food.  But I don’t think evolutionary biology counted on us having supermarkets and McDonalds on every corner, and food adverts on every flat surface.  Our houses are full of food storage units, and our workplaces packed with lunchboxes, vending machines and plates of biccies.  We are literally being cued to eat for most of our day.

HABIT: Habits control so much of why we eat.  It spans everything from the three meals a day you’ve been trained to eat, the biscuits you dunk in your coffee, through to the Mars Bar you always buy at the petrol station.

EMOTIONS: Most of us grew up with the belief that good and bad emotions exist.  We’re told very clearly to subdue the extremes of emotion, whether good or bad; “don’t cry, it’s not that bad”, “stop being so loud”, “don’t be jealous”, “I think it’s time you calm down now”.  Keeping emotions locked up inside isn’t easy, so we often find ways to make it feel less shit… like eating food.  Aside from our Mother’s touch, food is the first thing that comforted us, so it’s no wonder people often choose to comfort themselves by eating as adults.

TASTE: Scientists are smart.  They know how your taste buds work.  They know exactly what tastes, sensations, smells, visuals, nostalgia, will make food taste so unbelievable that’s it genuinely is a wonder no one has proved it’s addictive yet.  We are born with a natural ability to maintain our energy balance by the right amount of food.  But this system was designed when we were eating foods of one taste, like meat, or fruit, or roots.  We likely haven’t evolved quickly enough to gauge how much energy is in this flavourful food, that has more calories in a much smaller volume than our body is used to.  Think of food types such as soft drinks… our body was never designed to know what the hell to do with so many calories suddenly coming from the things like liquid.

KUCHISABISHII: I’ve had to use a Japanese word here, because the English language doesn’t have an equivalent yet.  It translates literally to ‘mouth loneliness’.  It describes mindless eating or boredom eating.  And it is a very real thing.

DIET CULTURE: It teaches you to under consume during the day, and that shouts at you for ‘binge eating’ when your body tries to eat its way out of famine at bedtime.  Your body does a very good job at helping you survive when it thinks you’re in danger.  But it also comes paired with the brain of a toddler sometimes… there’s no better way of making a food irresistible than to tell yourself you shouldn’t eat it.  A big red button with a “do not press” sign, is always just screaming to be pushed.

So, whilst the intuitive eating advice to just eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full seems like all we need, I often think it underestimates all the other things at play trying to get us to eat more energy than our body needs.

Let’s find out which of Culture’s Rules you follow when trying to find out why you eat:

 

WORKSHEET: Your Current Rules

Brains don’t like to work too hard.  They don’t want you wasting their important thinking juices.  And so, to make sure that happens, it creates a bunch of automatic responses ready to help you get through your day.  Some of these are for mundane crap like how you brush your teeth or the best way to get into a car.  But others are to deal with more complex actions, like how you deal with a shitty day at work.  Sometimes those strategies include food. 

 

Eating when you aren’t hungry – unless for a celebration – is a strategy.  Your Animal Brain doesn’t really care whether it’s a strategy that makes you happy.  It just cares that whatever life-threatening trauma you are going through – like your best mate ghosting your texts – is solved.  And the choice to use food as a reward or comforter is a reasonable and logical one.

 

Food was likely one of the first things that gave you comfort.  As a baby, you cried and were fed – sweet deal!  And that got solidified as a good strategy as you grew up.  Most caregivers give food when their kid is hurting or to reward them for being good.  So, it makes total sense to carry that go-to into adulthood too.

 

Most of the time food does fix the issue, even if it’s just in the short term.  And that’s a good thing.  At that moment, your brain chose well.  Because emotions don’t always need to be dealt with straight away.  There’s nothing wrong with eating Ben & Jerry’s and drinking wine to cope with the aftermath of heartbreak.  And maybe a bag of Doritos to interrupt boredom or make your mouth feel less lonely is an absolute winner. 

 

There is probably only an issue if food becomes your ONLY strategy.  But the only person who can decide if it is a resourceful strategy that you want to keep is you.  And hopefully, delving into WHY you eat can help you answer that.

 

WORKSHEET: Work Out the Tension

Working out the part you want food to play in your life can be tough.  As with everything, there is no one size fits all.  I love spending time thinking about the perfect thing that I want to cook, whereas my Dad would have all his nutrients in pill form if he could.  My go-to strategy for when life is shit is sleep deprivation and shit TV.  Whereas when my Mum has had a bad day, the cheese block takes a hammering.  The important thing is that you take to time to learn about what may work or not work for your individual awesomeness.

 

Use these resources, combined with what you discovered about your emotions in a previous Rule.  Really hone your thoughts and new habits/strategies about this new Rule that you want to create.

 

WATCH: Overeating, Cues, and Conditioning

WATCH: The Psychology of Overeating (long but worth it, and I apologise about the mention of body weight from 29:25-29:32.)

WATCH: Feel It… Before You Feed It (this is a TEDx Talk about emotional eating.  The presenter tells a story about her journey which does involve weight loss, but this isn’t like your usual “fix your emotions to lose weight” talk.  She makes it clear that the weight loss is a side effect of her journey, and not the main intention of the changes she made.)

WATCH: Overcome Reward and Emotional Eating

READ: How Do Hormones Affect Hunger?

Now’s the time to put everything together.  Trust your instincts and write new Rules that feel good.  They should feel like you, like they fit the type of Game that you want to play.

 

And don’t forget that these Rules aren’t ever set in stone.  As your life and goals alter with time and experience, your Rules should keep pace too.

 

WORKSHEET: Create Your New Rules