When I was growing up, nearly everyday at 4 o’clock you could count on The Oprah Show being on in our house. My mom was a huge fan, and we were all so sad when the show aired its final episode. I remember one show in particular that was about weight loss where Oprah shared a lightbulb moment regarding emotional eating. She asked: “What are you really hungry for?”*
Reflecting on my own hunger, there are times that I reach for food that have nothing to do with real hunger.
If you are really hungry, you don’t have to ask yourself if you are. You just know. After a hard soccer game, I know that I am hungry. When my stomach growls five hours after my last meal, I know that I am ready for my next one. Real hunger is associated with physical signs like a grumbling stomach or a general weak feeling.
Fake hunger resides mostly in my mouth. Maybe it’s getting kind of stale in there, and I decide a sweet bite of something will make it taste better. Maybe I’ve been working for two hours and crunching on a snack sounds like a nice change of scenery. Maybe I’ve just seen something delicious that has me salivating for a bite.
For years I’ve been using a green beans test to see if I am really hungry. I actually like canned green beans, but they aren’t exactly gourmet. But if canned green beans sound delicious, then I am ready for a meal. If I mentally turn down the green beans but a cookie or cereal or other ‘snackier’ foods sound good, then I’m not really hungry yet – I’m just looking for something sweet to change my mood.
When Oprah asks “What are you really hungry for?”, she’s inviting us to reflect on our emotions and see if we are really craving company, a break, intellectual stimulation, a friend, a celebration, peace or other feelings. There are ways to satisfy our emotions that don’t involve food. If we can figure out an alternative route to satisfy our emotions (or stale palates!) then we are on the right track to having a healthier relationship with food.
How does hunger manifest for you?
*I noticed there is a book with this same title. Perhaps this book is related to Oprah’s episode I remember?