Become AWARE of Your Eating Behaviors - Healthy Lifestyle News

Become AWARE of Your Eating Behaviors - Healthy Lifestyle News

first, your biggest challenge is that you don’t even realize when you’re eating emotionally. In a word, you eat “mindlessly.” We all use free will and make conscious decisions, but 95 percent of our daily behaviors run on automatic pilot. These unconsciously driven behaviors are known as habits. You don’t have to think about beating your heart, releasing hormones, or digesting your food because these are autopilot bodily functions handled by your autonomic nervous system.

If your unconscious mind has the power to handle such enormous and complex physiological tasks, then you can understand how easily it can… also create and carry out automatic eating behaviors without consulting your conscious mind. For example, if stress eating has become an unconscious pattern, you don’t have to think about what to do when you feel stressed. A line of code has been installed in your brain that says, “If there’s stress, then eat comfort food.” You eat without thinking for many reasons, and the neural associations to foods that trigger emotional eating can be formed at a very young age.

Foods can get linked to home, family, friends, love, being pampered, and just about any person, place, or experience. On my new-client work sheet are two questions whose answers I always look at very closely. The first is, “What are your favorite foods?” The second is, “Why 73 are those your favorite foods?” Sometimes my clients give superficial answers such as, “I like the taste.” But when I ask more questions, I usually find a memory associated with every favorite food. When I probe deep enough, I hear answers like, “That flavor of ice cream reminds me of summers at the beach house when I was a kid. Those were good times.”

In this case, ice cream had been linked to all the emotions related to family, summer fun, and the carefree days of childhood. Those days may be long gone, but the ice cream is always there as a way to recapture the feelings. Since habitual eating patterns can go back so far and they’re programmed at the unconscious level, they’ll continue to run on automatic pilot unless you intentionally break them and replace them with new ones. However, before you can break an old pattern, you must know it exists. That’s where awareness comes in. You must start paying attention. Some people call this conscious or mindful eating and it’s the polar opposite of mindless or impulse eating. There are two important aspects to eating with awareness. The first is eating exclusively, which means that when you eat, you do nothing but eat.

Studies show that TV viewing time correlates highly with weight gain, obesity, and weight regain. One explanation is that while watching TV, it’s easy to get a surplus of calories because while you’re occupied with what’s on the TV screen, you don’t pay attention to how much you’re consuming. Eating exclusively also helps prevent you from forming undesirable neural associations through stimulus-response conditioning, also known as the “Pavlov’s dog effect.” Watching TV, reading the newspaper, working on your computer, or any other stimulus can become linked to eating if you pair the two activities together often enough. If the TV becomes anchored to eating, then even if you’re not physically hungry, just sitting in front of the TV will neurologically trigger the thought of eating. The second aspect of mindful eating is to eat slowly. “Don’t inhale your food” isn’t just an admonishment that you probably heard from your mother, it’s scientifically accurate weight control advice. The effect of eating slowly, which scientists call “time-energy displacement,” has been studied extensively. Eating too quickly doesn’t allow the satiety mechanisms in your brain to register the caloric energy. By the time you feel full, you may have already eaten too much.

A recent study at the University of Alabama discovered something that might be more important than eating slowly. After looking at satiety (how full a food makes you feel), energy density (calories per unit of volume), and eating time of various foods, researchers found it was even more advantageous to choose foods that force you to ingest calories more slowly, so you couldn’t consume the calories faster if you tried. This means choosing foods with a high satiety factor, a high “chew factor,” and a low energy density (such as high-fiber vegetables and lean proteins), and fewer foods with a low satiety factor and a high energy density (such as liquid calories, refined sugars, and grains). You’ll learn more about this high-low approach to fat-burning nutrition in Chapter Six.

Another way to raise conscious awareness is to keep a journal, including a daily record of your nutritional intake, as well as a diary of your thoughts and feelings before, during, and after you eat. I recommend journaling for at least four to twelve weeks when you first start the program and again at any time you want to work on an important goal or if you think you’re slipping back. Continuing to keep a food journal into the maintenance phase is your choice, but in the early stages when you’re developing new habits, journaling provides a learning experience and awareness exercise that’s unequaled any other way. A journal can be a real wake-up call as you begin to realize the extent of your old emotional and impulse eating behaviors. As your journal makes you accountable for what, when, how much, and why you’ve been eating, you may notice some of your behaviors start to change and your results improve instantly, just because you’re keeping track.