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5 Tips to Help You Wait to Eat

Like many people, I’ve been spending a lot of time at home lately, and I’m feeling the urge to eat more often.

A few things contribute to this:

  1. With no clear distinction between work and personal time, I’m looking for things to break up the day

  2. Food is even more accessible than it usually is

  3. Hunger can be an uncomfortable feeling, especially in times of stress

Once I realized I was eating at the merest whiff of hunger, I decided something needed to change. Mainly, I had to consciously remind myself that while I could eat, if I waited until I was truly hungry, I’d be more satisfied.

It took me a while to get back into the habit of this, but I’m glad I did. I feel better and more focused, and I’ve also noticed that when I do get hungry, it’s more manageable, like my body and I are communicating better.

In case you’re also feeling the urge to eat when you're not hungry, or not that hungry, here are five tips that might help.

Tip 1: Remember – Hunger isn’t Bad

Hunger gets a bad rap. Kids are reminded about starving children in other countries, and as adults, hunger is associated with discomfort or being “hangry.”

It’s true that if you get too hungry, or you’re hungry all the time, that’s not a good thing. But normal hunger isn’t something to be afraid of.

I’ve had to remind myself of this several times, and I found it useful to compare the feeling to my phone battery. If the battery gets to 50%, that’s not bad. It’s simply an indication that I’ve gone through part of the phone’s energy, and at some point, it will need to be recharged for me to keep using it. That doesn’t mean I need to charge it right now.

Similarly, initial hunger pangs are just a reminder that you’ve burned through some of the food you consumed, and that you’ll need to refuel at some point, but you could wait a while.

Just be sure not to get to the 10% or lower “battery” level since by that point, you’re too hungry to eat mindfully.

Tip 2: Delaying Isn’t Restriction

If you decide to wait a while before eating, it’s very easy to feel like this is some kind of restriction. But it’s not.

When you’re in a restrictive mode, you’re denying yourself certain foods, and you’re probably telling yourself that you can’t eat very much.

When you delay, though, that has nothing to do with what or how much you’re eventually going to eat. Tell yourself that you can still have the food you really want, but you’ll just have it later.

Tip 3: You’ll Enjoy Food More Later

That brings me to the next tip, which is to remember that you’ll enjoy the food more when you’re truly hungry for it.

I know our society doesn’t encourage delayed gratification. That’s why we have on-demand movies and next day shipping.

But if you eat something when you’re not hungry, you won’t enjoy it as much. You might even be disappointed in it and end up overeating in search for something you like.

On the other hand, if you eat when you’re truly hungry, food tastes better, even foods you might not normally enjoy. For example, when I go hiking and am hungry from all the exercise, I think pepperoni sticks taste wonderful. But in everyday life, they’re not my favorite.

Tip 4: Don’t Skip Favorite Foods

While it’s true that most things taste better when you’re hungry, make sure you still include some of your favorite foods, even if they’re not the most nutrient-dense.

For example, now that it’s almost summer, I’ve started making homemade ice cream again. So far I’ve made rhubarb ice cream and mint chocolate chip ice cream (it doesn’t look green because I didn’t put in food coloring).

And before that, I did a lot of baking, including brownies, spice cake, and chocolate chip cookie bars. I don’t eat a lot of these things, but I like to have something sweet every day.

Your favorites might be different, but the point is, when you let yourself enjoy those foods, it reassures you. You remember that you’re not depriving yourself and that waiting to eat was worthwhile.

This makes it much easier to pause the next time you’re tempted to eat when you’re not hungry. You can remind yourself that when you waited last time, it worked out just fine.

Tip 5: Ignore the Clock

Finally, ignore the clock! I realize this is easier said than done, especially if you’re eating with other people or can only take breaks at certain times. But try not to feel pressured to eat because of the time of day.

This is something that I’ve found much easier to do while staying home because there’s no one else around. Occasionally I have meetings that conflict with when I want to eat, but I adjust for those as needed.

And I’ve found that when left to myself, I don’t eat on a “typical” schedule.

Part of this is because I get up so early. Now that sunrise is around 5 a.m., I’ve been getting up around 4:45 a.m. Since I eat breakfast not long after, waiting until noon or even 11:30 to eat again is too long.

Instead, I eat brunch (or perhaps second breakfast) around 9:30 or 10. That will hold me until around 2 or so when I have a snack. I have dinner around 5, and then another snack around 7, but I’ll also adjust those times a bit depending on when I’m hungry.

I could probably eliminate the snacks if I ate more at the meals, but that doesn’t work well for me. If I don’t let myself have the snacks, I often end up overeating at meals because I’m worried that I’ll get hungry again before the next one. And then I feel sluggish and tired.

Eating smaller amounts more often is what works for me, but it may not for you. The key is to pay attention to your hunger rhythms, not the clock, when deciding when to eat.

Waiting to Eat Has Many Advantages

It’s very tempting to eat the moment you notice the first sign of hunger. It’s even more tempting if something stressful is going on, or if you’re bored, or any number of other reasons.

But if you can hold off on eating until you’re more hungry, the food will taste better, and you may even eat less of it because you’re more satisfied. Also, remember that restriction isn’t the point, so when you do eat, be sure to include foods you enjoy.

If you give these tips a try, let me know how it works!

And in the meantime, wish me well on trying to convince my food-focused cat Fezzik that he can also wait to eat – so far, I don’t think he’s buying it.

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