Three Rationales: Why Hunger is Not the Only Reason to Eat
I was having this conversation with one of my clients the other day. We were sitting here in Omni’s office in Denver where we focus on recovery from disordered eating. We were discussing hunger cues and how they can sometimes be unreliable, and more importantly how they are not the only justification for eating. In fact that is far from the truth. There are a million and one reasons to eat that do not involve hunger. We discussed schedule, connection, and proximity to food as three reasons other than hunger that makes sense as rational times to eat. Here is a little more info on each of these rationales.
I think the most crucial reason to eat despite whether or not you are experiencing hunger cues is your schedule. I know for me, when I am seeing clients all day I have to work my food into the schedule wherever it fits best. Often times this means that I eat at points in my day when I am not feeling hungry. However, I know that if I do not eat when my schedule has a break and allows me to do so, I will end up feeling groggy and hangry and not able to be my best self in my work. Ultimately that negatively affects my clients and my ability to show up as the dietitian and therapist that I want to be. That is not cool. So in order to stay ahead of my hunger, I often eat regardless of what my hunger cues are saying.
One more factor to consider when eating without feeling hunger cues is connection. The word connection in this case applies to any interaction with peers, friends, family, coworkers, or partners. The connection could be taking place at any event; a birthday party, a funeral, a coworkers going away, a wedding, a holiday family celebration, a social gathering at a friends house, a dinner date, a game night, a meet up, a backyard barbeque…you get the idea. Typically, we plan our lives around convenience and time that is available for social events, not around our hunger cues. That may mean that your hunger cues do not always show up when you may want them to. That does not signify that you should not eat, in fact, quite the contrary. It is totally ok to eat as a part of human connection when food presents itself as part of the vehicle for connecting.
The final reason I will share today to not rely on hunger as the justification for eating is proximity to food. Think about the times where you may have access to food that you were not expecting or planning for. Say for instance, a coworker brings donuts to work for everyone on a Friday to celebrate the weekend, or you go over to a loved one’s house to visit and they have some fresh baked banana bread. Access and proximity food are both great reasons to eat. I like to remind clients that your body is more than capable of regulating itself, and if you have that unexpected donut or piece of banana bread your body knows exactly how to navigate utilizing it for energy and then communicating with you what other needs it has. Eating when food is available makes absolute sense. One thing I know for sure is that your body needs consistent and varied nutrition throughout the day, every single day. That is a principle you can rely on as an absolute as you navigate eating for reasons aside from hunger.
I actually tend to think of my hunger cues as signs that I have waited too long to eat. I have noticed that when I start to really feel my hunger set in, I need to eat right away or my irritability is close behind. I usually focus on staying ahead of my hunger as my goal in eating, as I know that my body needs consistent nourishment in order to go through my day and be my best self.
I know there maybe times when your eating disorder has lied to you and said that when you are experiencing hunger, that is the only appropriate time to eat. That is not true. Your hunger is one reason to eat, and certainly is important to honor and pay attention to. However, it is far from the only justification for eating. Remember that your body needs consistent, varied, and reliable nourishment. You can trust that your body is fully capable of managing your intake whether it is due to hunger, your schedule, connection, or proximity to food….or a million other reasons! Can you think of any others?