Hidden Cues To Eating

Lifestyle Education Discussion:
“Hidden Cues To Eating”
“Why can’t I stop?” Have you ever repeated this question to yourself in an attempt to understand your eating behaviors? Of course you have. We all have. It’s a battle between what YOU WANT TO HAPPEN and what you ACTUALLY DO. It all comes down to food habits and food cues. It’s often said that nutrition is 20% science and 80% habit, so the question often is not “what,” but “how.” Let’s dig into this a little deeper.

A habit is a routine or behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously. No question that habits are hard to break, and this is especially true with eating habits. Cues are anything in your internal or external environment that trigger you to a particular behavior. With food cues, they can originate internally, externally or arise in certain social situations. You will be familiar with the following:

– Eating at weddings, funerals and birthday’s
– Eating/drinking beer watching football games
– Overeating while watching TV
– Eating popcorn and drinking soda at a movie theater
– Eating at night (stressful day and unwinding with food)
– Mindless Eating at parties
– Eating candy from a coworkers desk
– Eating donuts or cookies left in a breakroom
– Eating out with coworkers at lunch
– Overeating at buffets
– Craving a whopper after seeing a Burger King commercial
– Stopping for a Krispy Kreme donut after seeing the “hot now” sign
– Eating for emotional reasons (stress, lonely, anxious, happy, sad, bored, angry, tired, etc)

When I’m working with individuals in a one-on-one setting it may be surprising to find that we spend little time discussing nutrition and “what” he/she should be eating. Instead, the majority of our energy is spent identifying habits and triggers. The focus of yesterday’s discussion was two-fold: Identify and recognize various cues to unhealthy eating habits and to understand how to replace those unwanted habits with habits that provide a positive reward for the brain. As we discussed yesterday, the brain loves reward. The more powerful the reward, the more difficult it is to break the habit. Hyperpalatable foods such as pizza, ice cream, junk food, etc stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain and provide a powerful reward (dopamine) that is hard to break. If you want to change the habit, you have to find an activity that provides a reward to the brain. The challenge is that eating junk food provides instant relief. Eating well and exercising produces more of a long-term, sustained reward. If you truly want to change your eating and exercising habits, you need to do so in a way that provides reward for the brain.

Some rewards of eating well and exercising:

– Improved energy
– Self confidence
– Disease prevention
– Look good
– Feel strong
– Empowered
– Shame-free
– Better sleep
– Getting off medications
– Cured depression/anxiety
– Improved immunity
– Glowing skin
– Increase mobility
– Freedom to live

I say this all the time, but weight loss isn’t about having more willpower or self-control. Instead, it’s about digging deep and understanding what motivates you. It’s about taking an inventory of your environment and then developing strategies that ensure success.

To the ladies and gentlemen that have made this work for them, please post your suggestions/experiences!

About the Author
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Weight Loss Coach specializing in lifestyle transformation