Note: For information about the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating program, visit www.AmIHungry.com, or my website.
Hunger may be the best seasoning, but can you take it too far and wait to eat until you’re too hungry?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot in relation to myself, and also as a coach for the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating program, since the program talks a lot about checking in before eating to see if you're actually hungry. This doesn't mean you should never eat when you're not hungry, only that this helps understand why you want to eat and makes eating a conscious decision.
But if you decide to wait to eat until you're hungry, what does that mean exactly? Do you wait until you feel a little peckish, or you get a headache because your blood sugar drops too low, or you're completely ravenous?
On the face of it, waiting until you're really hungry seems to make sense, especially if you want to be completely sure it's physical hunger, not something else, that's making you want to eat. But in reality, this can be problematic in a number of ways.
This is something I’ve noticed firsthand, since lately I’ve realized that I let myself get too hungry during the day. It's not that I don't eat, but I don't necessarily eat enough. I was in the habit of having just enough food to get me through until I got hom. It didn't seem like this should be a problem, until I started paying a little more attention.
The first thing I realized was that towards the end of the day, I started getting into that "hangry" zone, where I didn't want any interruptions or anything unexpected to happen because I couldn’t focus on it. Instead, my thoughts centered around getting home so I could eat, rather than paying attention to what I was doing. This was not a good position to be in, especially when driving home, and it also meant I could sometimes be a little short with co-workers who came by with a last-minute request.
My stress level also shot up. I know sometimes we eat because we're stressed, but interestingly enough, sometimes what's stressing us out is being too hungry. Since I've been trying to reduce my level of stress, especially later in the day, this type of anxiety wasn’t a good thing.
Then there's what happened when I get home. As soon as I walked in the door, I immediately fixated on food. This meant that I didn’t give myself any real transition time between work and home. Plus, because I was so hungry by then, I tended to eat a lot, more than I might need, because it's harder to pay attention to those hunger/fullness cues when you're feeling that empty, or have a headache, or are shaky from hunger. It’s not a good recipe for being in charge of my decisions and mindful about eating.
Given all that, I've started taking a different approach. I've been bringing a little more food to work, so I can eat more during the day (if I'm hungry for it). Not enough so I'm stuffed, but at least enough so I'm not as food-focused at the end of the day. This way, I can get home still feeling sane and relatively calm, and instead of going right for the fridge, I can take a few minutes to pat the cats, unpack from the day. Then, when I’m hungry for it, I can think about dinner in a more leisurely way.
It's helped make the end of my day less stressful, and I’m not eating quite as much at night. I also have to say that in general, it feels better to not let my body get to that stressed and ravenous point. Sometimes things are out of my control and it may still happen, but I'd rather plan to avoid it as much as possible - and I suspect that anyone who talks with me at the end of the day appreciates it, too.