Why is it so hard to eat less. We know for a fact that we eat too much. We know because it seems like we spend most of the day eating and our bodies are clear evidence of the behavior. So, to lose weight we just need to eat less, but what makes that so overwhelmingly hard?
The science of hunger helps to explain why you eat too much.
Food is fuel. Your body recognizes when it’s running low on fuel. Your blood sugar drops and your mind and your stomach say “It’s time for food.” You feel it with a distinct emptiness of your belly. You might also have some stomach growling and if you’re really in need of food you could even feel light-headed or slightly nauseated.
You respond to the call to action by eating. Eating raises your blood sugar level, hormones detect satisfaction, the need for food is shut off, and brain and stomach say, “enough!”
Homeostatic hunger is considered to be the real, as in a physical need of food, hunger because you’re responding to the need for fuel as energy for all of your body’s processes.
It’s been several hours since you ate last and your hunger is coming from your body’s need to be refueled. It can be related to filling your gas tank on your car, driving 500 miles, and needing to put in more fuel if you intend to keep driving. Unlike the gas tank in your car that has a specific capacity that you can’t exceed, your stomach doesn’t work that way.
Bodies aren’t cars. The need for food isn’t only driven by the need for fuel. Hunger and eating are more complex than that for most of us. If it were than simple, nobody would be overweight because we’d all regulate our food for fuel with absolute perfection.
Homeostatic may be part of the reason why you eat too much, and scientists have discovered another kind of hunger that isn’t driven by a physical need for food.
Hedonic hunger explains the urge to eat that feels every bit as real as homeostatic hunger, but the urge comes from wanting food for a reason different than needing fuel. The name “hedonic” suggests eating for pleasure but for those of us who overeat, we know there is nothing pleasant about an intense urge to eat all the time. We know that giving into non stop eating gives us more of what causes us pain – excess body weight!
Hedonic hunger is what makes us “make room for dessert” when we just ate more calories for our meal than were necessary to refuel our bodies. Hedonic hunger is what makes the need for food feel real when we smell or even think of highly palatable food.
Hedonic is a hunger that happens regardless of how long it was since our last meal. It’s not linked to a physical need for food even though it feels like it is. It seems like the more guilty we feel about enjoying certain foods, the stronger the hedonic hunger drive becomes.
Now you understand why you have the urge to eat more often, and simply more food, than your body’s energy requirements. It’s not always because you need food for fuel even though the hunger sensations feel the same. This, by the way, is not the same as emotional eating which has nothing to do with hunger at all and is a huge challenge on its own.
I found that I do best with the Weight Watchers combination of a flexible food plan with attention to shifting my mindset to help me change how I think and act towards food. New behaviors are reinforced by the meetings and provide an effective environment of group support to enable better ways to manage eating.
You might find some other solution, but if you’re not having luck discovering that solution on your own, you might try doing what I do to see if it will work for you too.