Mindful Connections to Food, Appetite, and Emotions: Why Do You Eat?Dr. Miranda Wiley, ND
April 9, 2018
Let’s do a quick recap. In week one of the Botanica Mindful Nutrition Challenge we explored what foods we choose to bring into our homes and into our bodies. In the second week, it was a reflection of how those foods are taken in and how our body responds to them.
This week we’re going to shift the focus to understanding why we eat the foods that we choose (the what) and why we eat them the way we do (the how).
Why Do You Eat?
There are many reasons why people eat: hunger, boredom, stress, self-sabotage, pleasure, time cues, social cues, and reward, to name a few. The motivation to eat may change throughout the day, or from day to day. This is the deep dive into getting to know our eating patterns and why they are what they are. Again, there are no right answers or wrong answers. Be open and interested in what comes up for you.
Do You Experience Hunger or Seek to Avoid the Sensation?
When you wake up in the morning do you have breakfast right away or wait until you are at work? Why or why not?
People who wake up hungry boggle at the idea of skipping breakfast (“I’ll starve!”), while those who arise with little to no appetite are similarly stymied at the concept of sitting down to a plate of food so early in the day.
There has been so much advice and information on diets in the last few decades as the science of nutrition grew. (The thing to remember is that “science” is a journey of discovery, it’s about learning and finding out, so it changes!)
Do you eat on a schedule, and if so, why? Is it because it feels right for your body to do so, or because you were told to? For some, the answer may be rooted in their work, school, or life schedule and the times that are available for meals.
Some people go against what feels right for them because of well-intended recommendations from a magazine or expert (or blog post? 😉 ). Six small meals a day may feel right for you but not be suitable for your best friend or neighbour. Eating no later than 6 pm might be impossible for a shift worker.
The main question to ask yourself when turning to food is whether or not you are actually hungry. If the answer is “not really” then there are a lot more “why’s” to consider!
How Do Emotions Affect Your Appetite?
Emotions are such a powerful source of “why”! Considering again that food is primarily for fuelling the body, the role of emotions in stimulating or suppressing appetite doesn’t necessarily make sense – eat to feed your body, right?
But anthropologically meals were social times – times when we united as a clan to share in a feast, have a conversation, deepen our ties and connections with other people, and unite for survival. Food was as essential for the collective human experience as it was for each individual fighting to survive that it became an opportunity to support each other by working together to ensure that everyone is fed and is contributing to the group if able.
Even in modern society when food is more widely available than it ever has been in our collective human history, food and emotions are strongly linked. Food is often used in parenting to reward good manners or to punish bad behaviour. “If you do XYZ then you can have some chocolate”, or “If you DON’T do XYZ then you’ll go to bed without supper tonight”!
Food can, therefore, trigger emotions and be triggered BY emotions. In the face of bad news, some people will lose their appetite entirely while others will give themselves permission to eat as much of whatever they want to try to blunt the negative emotions with physical discomfort.
Don’t Forget to Reflect!
The self-reflection for this week becomes two-fold when it comes to emotional exploration. When eating anything, ask yourself why you are eating it. Why that food? Why then? Why not something else?
When experiencing a strong emotion – joy, frustration, anger, sadness, stress – pay attention to how your appetite responds. Why do you feel the need to eat when experiencing those particular emotions? Why do you stop eating when in the midst of other ones?
And consider why you stop eating. Are you full? Are you out of food? Are you out of time? Are you bored with the food? The motivation to stop is as worthy of self-discovery as the motivation to eat in the first place. Remember, we have a helpful worksheet that you can download here and take with you where ever you go!