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Why Eat? Why Not Eat?

Note: This is part of a short series of posts relating to the Mindful Eating cycle in the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating program, where each part looks at one of the decision points that goes into eating – why, when, what, how, how much, and where you spend your energy. Learn more about the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating program here or at

When I recently read All the Names by Jose Saramago, I wasn’t expecting to think about food until I found a number of references to the eating habits of the protagonist. The first one particularly caught my attention: “Obviously it would not enter anyone’s head to eat without being hungry….” (p. 28)

This struck me because in my work through Am I Hungry? (AIH) Mindful Eating program and general conversations about food with people, I have yet to meet anyone who only ever eats because they’re hungry. I suppose they must exist, but to me they seem almost as mythical as a unicorn.

After all, for many of us it is all too easy to come up with other reasons to eat. In fact, during one of my AIH sessions, when we talked about the “why” of eating, one woman posed the question back, “You ask why we eat, but really, why not eat?”

And it’s true that we can eat for many reasons. Here’s a list just off the top of my head:

  • The food tastes good

  • The food is there

  • The food is free (or the converse, I’ve paid for it, so I’m going to eat it)

  • I’m tired

  • I’m feeling ___ (fill in any emotion, since they pretty much all work – bored, stressed, happy, lonely, angry, depressed, etc.)

  • Other people are eating

  • It’s a mealtime

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea. Even though I tend to eat instinctively most of the time, I still have moments where I decide that I want to eat for reasons other than hunger, or to continue eating past the point of assuaging hunger.

I wonder if the fact that Saramago is from another country (Portugal) makes him think that people don’t eat for other reasons. Maybe in his society that’s more of the norm, but here, it seems the opposite is the case. Which is precisely the reason we talk about that first in the Am I Hungry? Midulnf Eating program, because knowing why you’re eating is a necessary first step in understanding your relationship to food and eating.

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