As part of my weight loss journey I’ve been learning a great deal about the differences between physical hunger and emotional hunger. Distinguishing the difference between the two is one of the most important skills when working on decreasing overeating.
One of the best indicators of actual physical hunger is that any food will satisfy it. If you are hungry for just an In N Out burger and nothing else will do it’s likely that you’re feeling emotional hunger. Physical hunger occurs after some time has passed since your last meal. It comes on gradually and you can wait. In fact you may find that if you wait, the hungry feeling goes away for a while. You may have a rumbling sound or an empty sensation in your stomach. One key point is that satisfying true physical hunger doesn’t make you feel bad or guilty.
Emotional or psychological hunger is a desire to eat even when you are not physically hungry. It can come on suddenly and feel very urgent. You may feel that you need to eat immediately. When trying to satisfy emotional hunger you tend to eat more – you have difficulty stopping when you are full. You may also crave a specific food. Emotional eating tends to trigger guilt, shame and a sense that you are powerless over overeating. It may satisfy you temporarily but since the root problem isn’t fixed, the hunger returns. The problem may be unmet emotional needs, the discomfort of feeling negative emotions, stress, anger, depression and boredom. It can even be simply out of habit.
To start becoming more aware of how you feel when you are hungry try journaling for the next week or so. Each time you feel hungry or you just want to eat, write it down. What are you thinking about? What physical sensations do you have? Start to look at possible triggers for overeating. Once you can identify your triggers you can begin to take action. You can limit the triggers or develop alternate healthy behaviors.
Remember that emotional eating does not solve the problem you are trying to numb and you add problems – weight gain, feelings of shame or guilt, unresolved issues. And you never learn to actually notice your negative thoughts and emotions and learn to manage them.
If you want to stop quitting it helps to realize many of us have made it a lifetime habit to quit. If we have our brains on autopilot this is where we will end up – quitting. The subconscious part of our brain is focused on survival. It’s job is to tell us to seek pleasure, avoid pain and conserve energy. These are great guiding principles if I find myself in the middle of the desert struggling for survival. It requires the use of the pre-frontal cortex part of our brain to make decisions beyond mere survival and to produce awesomeness in the world. We must develop our thinking in order to meet goals that are uncomfortable. Goals like losing weight, learning something new, becoming a top athlete, homeschooling children.
If I practice quitting I will become a better quitter. I spent many years practicing procrastination and it made me a great procrastinator. I also had a great deal of practice as an over-eater. What do you practice on a daily basis that may be taking you away from achieving your goals?
What excuses have you made for quitting something? Here are some of the favorites I’ve used:
I am learning to wrap my mind about the idea of fully committing. When you are fully committed you are no longer worried about failure. The only way to truly fail is by quitting. Quitting, in the moment, feels like relief.
When we commit to accomplishing something it feels great at first. We’re motivated and gung ho. If you have a goal to lose weight this is the stage where you’re making grocery lists, menus and diving into meal planning. As time goes by the discomfort sets in.
Then your survival brain kicks in and you may get scared that this will be one more diet that doesn’t work out. When you stop reaching for food for comfort you may find that you experience more negative emotions and thoughts. It gets tough trying to figure out how to do all this in the real world – lunch meetings with food, family functions, vacations, friends who just don’t get it. This is where you start to justify quitting. Once you quit you are relieved and temporarily happy with the decision. If may feel like peace or self-care. But later, regret and despair set in when you realize you are stuck back in your same old situation. Eventually you commit to trying again or to trying something new. And in the end you never reach your goal. It’s a vicious cycle. This is the exact cycle I was stuck in with dieting.
The key is to do work on your thinking at the level of discomfort. I encourage you to get help with changing your thinking and learn to manage difficult emotions. This is the work I have been doing and, oh, how I wish I had known how to do this stuff sooner. Dive into your Bible and do some studying on the mind and on thinking. Get a counselor to work through some of this with a trained guide. Feel free to jump in our Facebook Nutrition Encouragement and Support group.
Read more about growing your grit here. Grit is a key ingredient in pushing past discomfort and learning to stop quitting on yourself. I just finished the book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. You can also sign up for my email newsletter so you don’t miss a post.
We are bombarded with distraction every day: busyness, stress, social media, and an abundance of information. Our minds are a torrent of thoughts. A meditation practice can help us train our minds to move beyond the superficial noise and practice inner contemplation. I have often felt that one reason I don’t hear the still small voice of God is that I am not quiet long enough to listen.
The Bible mentions meditation more than 50 times. The Hebrew words for meditation meant listening to God’s words, reflecting on His work, reviewing what He has done. Meditation is a practice of hearing God’s voice so that we can obey His words. We live in a physical world and many times we forget that we live in a spiritual world as well. Meditation is taking time to connect with the Divine and enjoy communion with Him. Jesus frequently drew away from the crowds to spend time in prayer and meditation.
The key is to commit to the practice. We get good at it by doing it. Simply stated, we learn meditation by meditating. Put it on your calendar daily. Over time it will be a habit that you don’t have to think about it. You will just do it. Download my free weekly habit tracker printable at the bottom of this post.
Start small and be consistent. Keep it simple.
Establish a regular time to do it. Tie it to another routine to remind you to do it in the beginning. I am building a habit of doing it as part of my morning routine. After my alarm goes off I get up and take care of pets and get a big glass of water. I spend time studying my Bible and then I go into my workout room for my meditation and prayer time.
The purpose of meditation is not to get good at meditation. The purpose is to impact the rest of your day. It can help you to feel more grounded, centered, and conscientious. It can reduce anxiety and improve your memory. That sets you up for a day of feeling and being awesome!
Ideally you will set up a place to meditate that is somewhat quiet and free of distractions. It doesn’t have to be completely silent but away from television and other noisy distractors. Another great place to meditate is outside, in nature.
In reality you can meditate anywhere, any time. Susanna Wesley was the mother of well-known hymn writer Charles Wesley and John the founder of the Methodist church. She had 19 children (10 survived into adulthood) and there was no place or time for quiet solitude. So she developed a practice of pulling her apron over her head to spend time in prayer and meditation. Her children knew that when she was in this posture she was not to be disturbed.
Sit in a position of comfort but not slouched. Sit straight – on the floor or in a chair but sit up straight and tall. Your posture affects your mental state.
You can also practice meditation on your knees. Some days I get out my yoga mat and assume the position of Child’s Pose. It is comfortable to maintain and conveys a sense of surrender.
Take deep rhythmic breaths (example: inhale for 6, hold for 2, exhale for 7). This helps to clear the mind and quiet the noise. Pay attention only to your breathing. Do this for a cycle of 5 repetitions.
When the mind drifts, bring it back. Your mind will wander. This is not about turning off your brain; it’s just about bringing it back when it does. In the normal course of our days we are bombarded with thoughts. It’s natural that it will return to this pattern. Observe that you drifted and bring your mind back to the task at hand. This practice is like doing repetitions in an exercise program. You get better and better at it as you practice.
As you meditate you will notice multiple irritations. Train your mind not to respond to every irritation or urge. This is fantastic training for your mind. Itchy nose? Buzzing fly? Urge to open your eyes? Work on increasing the amount of time that you can notice the irritation and not respond to it.
There are many ways to meditate but here are some common versions:
Ponder it in your heart. Imagine yourself in the “scene.” Use your senses. Imagine how it would have felt listening to Jesus’ words as He taught the Beatitudes. What does it sound like, what would it feel like to sit on a grassy hill with thousands of others who had come to hear this teacher? Are there any particular smells? What hope do you feel as you sit there listening and realizing that this man could truly be the Messiah? Let the verses take root in your heart.
This is a type of meditation that gives you space to be still and center your mind. Allow God to commune with you. Give Him your concerns and surrender to whatever He has for you. Release the things that are burdening you. He knows our needs but He still wants to hear about them from you. Philippians 4: 8 says, “…let your requests be known to God.”
If you are meditating outside or have a view of the outside, really look at nature. Be in wonder of what God has created. Ask God what He is saying through His creation.
Philippians 4:6-7 is often quoted and memorized.
"6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
I grew up knowing these verses but never really understanding how to apply them in my life. How do you just, "be anxious for nothing?" I prayed. But most times the worry was just still there. Sometimes quietly running in the background of my mind. Sometimes loudly screaming incessantly in my ear. I would feel guilty for being anxious when I knew I should be giving the worry over to God. So then I was not only worrying about the original worry, but also worrying about my faith. I didn't feel the peace of God that was promised so I felt like I was always missing something.
What I didn't realize was that the key for me was found in the next verses. God had given me actionable steps to take to manage my thinking.
"8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you."
The bottom line is that I need a daily practice of thinking about the right things. I am responsible to invest my thought life on things that I know to be true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praiseworthy, etc.
When I spend my time thinking about my anxieties and worries they are things that are potential future events. I am thinking about things that may or may not be true. God tells me to think about what I know to be true. Not on what my imagination has dreamed up as future possibilities.
I also need to look at what I am filling my mind with. IfI start my day watching or listening to the news my mind is filled with negativity. I now have a practice of starting my day with the Word of God. The Bible contains the tools and the wisdom I need to get through life. If I don't have the right tools in the tool box I can't access what I need when my mind is running amok.
What we spend time thinking about matters.