For many of us, this really is the question. A coworker offers us a doughnut, and we silently ask, “Do I actually need this?” Oftentimes, even as we are eating something, we casually remark to a friend that we “shouldn’t be eating” the particular food item on our plate—as we take another bite.
Something seems wrong here, doesn’t it? It’s difficult to fully enjoy a food that we “shouldn’t be eating.”
How can we choose well when deciding what to munch on? It’s important to not merely consider what you eat, but what is motivating you to eat it.
One reason you may be eating is out of physical hunger. Physical hunger manifests itself through a growling or empty stomach, difficulty concentrating, and low energy. If you are physically hungry, you'll typically consider multiple food options (as opposed to craving a specific food). This hunger arrives after time has passed since your last meal, and when you eat something, the hunger subsides. Physical hunger is your body’s way of communicating that you need fuel! In this situation, consider what foods actually sound good and will satisfy you. There's no need to feel ashamed for eating out of physical hunger.
The other type of hunger is emotional hunger. You might be eating for emotional reasons if you crave specific foods (can also happen with physical hunger), you desire food shortly after you eat, you aren't experiencing symptoms of physical hunger (see above), and food doesn’t seem to satisfy, even if you consume large quantities. Emotional hunger is a sign that you have needs beyond physical hunger, something that food won’t satisfy, no matter how much you eat.
If you are experiencing emotional hunger, it can be helpful to get away from the kitchen and evaluate what is really going on. Journaling, going on a walk to clear your mind, and talking with a close friend can all be non-food ways to relieve emotional hunger. In addition, choosing foods that you enjoy eating (as opposed to ones that the culture says you "should" eat) can reduce feelings of deprivation that may cause emotional hunger later on.
So, rather than feeling angelic when you eat carrots and ashamed when you eat ice cream, try asking yourself if your hunger is physical or emotional. Your body is adept at telling
you what and how much it needs. You might be surprised at how much easier it is to eat in a balanced way if you pause to consider why you’re eating in the first place.