By Kate Holm
Why do we eat? It seems like a simple enough question, right? And while there is the obvious answer - we eat because we need food to survive - there are SO many other reasons that can be driving our desire to eat and the choices we make.
Did you know that the microbes in your gut can strongly influence your food preferences and cravings? The composition of your microbiota can also alter your metabolism and absorption of nutrients, which will in turn either speed up or slow down your hunger cues.
Okay this one is pretty obvious; we eat because we are hungry… but is it really that simple? The next time you feel hungry ask if you are hungry above the shoulders or below the shoulders. Above the shoulders is more “mental/emotional hunger” rather than physical hunger felt below the shoulders in your belly. It is absolutely fine to eat for both reasons, but important to be aware of which one happens most often.
Food is delicious and should be enjoyed. Eating food that we love sets off a cascade of events that trigger the release of endorphins - our feel-good chemicals. We also have many pleasurable food associations - such as the smell of grandma’s baking or a special food you ate on an amazing holiday. The intricate overlap between our physical experience of food and our nervous system response is a huge factor in our food selection (and arguably how well our body tolerates said food!).
I’m sure most of us have been here. Feeling bit lost and bored and you find yourself staring into the light of the open fridge. If this is often you, is there another activity you could do instead? Get outside for a walk, phone a friend, read a book, or anything else that captures your attention and brings you joy. You could even brush up on your IQS handouts again ;)
Food is fuel and vital for our energy production. Yet at the same time, we can often reach for the wrong types of food when we are feeling flat or fatigued. The 3pm slump is notoriously a time when people will reach for another coffee or sugary snacks to get them through the afternoon. By working to stabilise your blood sugar levels through the day and focusing on nutrient dense wholefoods, good sleep, and gentle movement your energy levels should improve. If you still feel that you are struggling with low energy, please reach out to your naturopath or healthcare provider for individual guidance.
Remember those reward chemicals we mentioned above? Sometimes a bit too much of a good thing can makes us crave MORE. Food, particularly the highly processed variety, and the way it makes us feel can become quite addictive for many people. This is particularly the case when consuming large amounts of sugar, salt, MSG, artificial sweeteners, fat and intensely flavoured additives. Food manufacturers know this and will often carefully create a product to incorporate these addictive combinations so we eat and buy more! Another reason to move towards our fewer addictive wholefoods (that can still be delicious and ignite our sense and pleasure centre in the brain).
Ever found yourself eating because everyone else was, or someone was being pushy when offering food? Social pressure can play a huge role in not just what we eat, but how much we eat too. Learning more about your own body, food preferences and food in general can help you to feel more confident when saying no in certain situations - or just enjoying the social aspect of food and not worrying about it.
It is a common story to hear of people trying to eat their emotions. Whether this be downing a block of chocolate after a break up, reaching for more and more snacks when you’re feeling stressed, or some people even go the opposite way and find that they can’t stomach anything when emotions are high.
Like the above, our positive and celebratory emotions can also trigger eating behaviours. It’s your birthday? Maybe you’ll have that extra slice of cake. Offered an exciting promotion? Why not have a wine with your dinner. On holidays? Surely, we can eat the whole buffet! Food and celebrations go hand in hand, and so they should. Bringing our awareness to this aspect of our decision-making process can help us to identify whether the behaviours are supportive of our health goals, or if we are really just making excuses.
Because we can
Sometimes food is just there. And it looks delicious. And we feel like it. So, we do.
Because it is *insert meal* time
Often, our meals are dictated more by the time on the clock than our actual hunger cues. And while we highly recommend consuming your 3 meals a day, it is ok to break away from a strict schedule if you don’t actually feel hungry.
Because you don’t want to waste food
Many people become a human garbage bin because they don’t want to waste food. Some of us have grown up being told that we must eat everything on our plate, and still find it hard to break away from this habit, even if we are EXTREMELY full. And while food wastage is a huge global issue, making yourself overeat is not the answer. Instead, can you find ways to shop or cook differently to minimise food excess? Utilise your freezer to save leftovers, and serve smaller portions so you don’t feel the pressure to consume a large plate (but can go back for seconds if you need).
The reasons we eat are many and varied. Some are supportive of our health, others maybe need to be reassessed. Whatever your reasons, by fuelling yourself with a variety of healthy wholefoods you will be sure to be meeting your body’s nutritional needs, improving your health, and enjoying yourself while you’re at it!
Kate is a naturopath, nutritionist, health educator and speaker. She’s also the founder of Holism Health Co. – an online naturopathic clinic and postpartum meal delivery service designed to support women and their families through the challenges of preconception, pregnancy and postpartum.
As a mum of 2, Kate has firsthand experience with the guidance, support and health needs of new mothers. She’s passionate about creating a healthy foundation for future generations and believes it all starts with the way we eat. She pairs scientific knowledge with naturopathic philosophy to provide informed, personalised and holistic health and wellness solutions. Take a look at her website HERE to learn more about Kate and keep updated on her exclusive tips for everyone undertaking the 8-Week Program!