Why We Open the Fridge – Understanding Emotional and Intuitive Eating

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There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to nutrition, but as humans, we share certain traits that shape our relationship with food. Many of us share similar middle-of-the-night cravings, when stress becomes too overwhelming, certain treats become an obsession, while a whiff of something delicious being prepared can trigger hunger even in the most disciplined of minds. The allure of food comes in many shapes and forms, especially since we’re long past the idea of food as mere sustenance.

These cravings, hedonistic desires, and stress-related munchies are all expressions with similar, emotional roots. Sometimes, we lose track of balance in our life and indulge in too many a treat, leading to more complex behavioral and health issues, including weight troubles and eating disorders. So, it pays to understand your motivators, the roots of your relationship with food, and how you can strike that fine balance that treats the cause and takes care of the consequence, too.

Let’s start with intuition

You know that feeling deep in your belly when you know that something isn’t right with a situation, but you can’t quite put your finger on it? That’s one everyday example of your intuition at play. In the world of eating habits, let’s call it your gut feeling – quite literally so. When you are in tune with your own body and its needs, when you recognize those little signs of hunger and satiety early enough, and you follow through – you are an intuitive eater. There’s no need to use a scale, to measure food, to calculate your nutritional intake. Your body sends you all the right signals.

When an intuitive eater notices hunger cravings during work, and soon after lunch – they know it’s your body trying to tell you “you’re bored, you need stimulation”. An intuitive eater might in that case reach for a glass of water, make a cup of tea, or enjoy a fresh apple instead of an entire box of cookies.

When your emotions take over

Sometimes, when you’re not sure how to “read” your body’s innermost hunger signals, it becomes easy to confuse real, physical hunger with emotional triggers that use hunger as a distraction or some form of comfort. When you’re under too much stress, your body may try to alleviate some of that stress by nudging you to eat something sweet. When you’re sad, your body might trigger a very similar behavior, thus causing a pattern to form – so it’s no accident so many movie breakups end up in entire buckets of ice-cream being engorged.

Although the idea of using food as comfort doesn’t necessarily have to be a negative one, it becomes an issue when we relinquish any and all control over our eating habits due to our emotions. There’s a difference between eating mindfully to help yourself during tough times and to treat yourself with your favorite piece of cake, and eating mindlessly without accepting that food will not really help solve the issue.

Learning from dietary restrictions

It doesn’t have to come to a weight management problem for you to notice and change your eating habits. The sooner you spot an issue, the easier it will be to curb it with the right approach. Enter: diets! Simply put, a diet is merely a way of eating, while restrictive diets and fasting can be helpful in managing your weight, but also your appetite. They can teach you to enjoy tastes and aromas as opposed to amounts. For example, trying out the hCG diet recipes can offer you a glimpse into mindful eating with health in focus while you still enjoy diverse flavors.

Then you have intermittent fasting, the keto diet which restricts the intake of a single macronutrient in favor of the other two, the Atkins, and many others that offer different dietary restrictions. Such an approach can be very helpful not just temporarily to help you lose weight, but also to manage binge eating, become more mindful of your emotional states, and of your body’s real nutritional needs.

Finding your feet

First things first, you need to recognize your body’s cry for help in the form of cravings when and if they occur. Only then can you find a diet that can help you curb those haphazard spurs of hunger and prevent further unwanted weight gain, as well as a range of health issues that can result from poor eating habits. That bucket of deep-fried chicken wings may seem harmless today, but your body remembers your nutritional transgressions and reflects them through your health and chronic conditions later on.

It’s perfectly human to crave foods from time to time, and to indulge in treats. It’s the frequency and the dosage that matter most, as well as your mindset. Whichever dietary regime suits you best, it should be the one that inspires you to eat mindfully, to refine that inner compass of intuitive eating, and to develop discipline that puts your health first at all times.

Go for that one extra brownie from time to time if you’re stressed. But find other, healthy ways to resolve the underlying issues that cause you that stress, don’t let your cravings turn to binge sessions, and do treat your body like a temple that it is – it will repay you in a long, healthy life.