We all know that our bodies need food–it is essential for life! We need it for fuel, nourishment, strength, growth and repair. Food should be enjoyed and meals should be a pleasant experience. We are designed with built-in hunger and fullness signals that tell us when we need food and when we have had enough. Wouldn’t it be nice if eating were just that simple? Why is it that this gift of provision can be such a destructive force in our lives?
Food is abundant, fast and easy-to-get in this blessed country of ours. In our multi-media age, we are constantly bombarded with messages to eat, so it’s easy to become preoccupied with food and give it more prominence in our lives than it deserves. Eating is a complex response to physical, environmental, social and emotional stimuli. From poor habits to emotional eating, there are several reasons for overeating.
Meal Skipping and Deprivation
If we skip meals, we can become so hungry that when we do get a chance to eat, we binge. This can also happen if we deprive ourselves of favorite foods, such as going on a very strict diet.
Eating too Fast
Eating meals or snacks too quickly can also lead to overeating, because we don’t give enough time for “fullness signals” to reach the brain (at least 20 minutes).
We eat because we’re bored, or because it looks/smells/tastes good.
As a Means to Procrastinate
When we want to put off an unpleasant task, we sometimes grab a bite to eat rather than get the task over with.
To Reward Ourselves
Sometimes we eat “treats” or larger amounts of food as a reward for completing a task, doing a good job, or just getting through a hard day. We eat because we have a sense that we “deserve it.” This practice may have originated in childhood when parents, teachers or other authority figures gave us sweets for behaving well, getting good grades, and/or being helpful.
Because we are so busy and like to multi-task, we often find ourselves eating while doing other things like reading, working and driving. We also eat while watching TV, ballgames and movies. We often become so engrossed in whatever the activity is, that we simply don’t pay attention to how much we’ve eaten and before we know it, we’ve munched away more than we realized.
Huge portions both in restaurants and at home have become so common-place that they’ve become the norm for many people. Fullness signals are consistently ignored as we simply eat whatever amount is placed in front of us.
Companioning Ourselves with Food
We sometimes try to use food to fill a void of loneliness.
We use food to calm us down when we’re stressed, angry or frustrated. We also use it to lift our moods when we are disappointed, sad, depressed or grieving.
We associate food with love, and when we are feeling empty or unloved, we turn to it to fill us emotionally. We forget that in our pasts, the love was in the person (usually our mothers) who took the time to prepare and serve the food–not the food itself. Some people, on the other hand, did not receive the love they needed while growing up, and so developed a pattern of “mothering” themselves with food as a way to soothe themselves when they were upset; they continue this practice into adulthood.
As a Celebration
In our culture, we are taught that food is a way to share joy. We celebrate birthdays, holidays, graduations and even weekends with food. It is associated with many fun activities, from large social gatherings to watching a movie alone. Unfortunately, we often take these opportunities to overstuff ourselves.
When food is offered to us, it is hard to refuse. Sometimes we fear insulting someone who has gone to the trouble of baking or cooking something. Even if we’re not hungry, we may eat, to make them feel good.
How about you?
Isn’t it amazing all the ways we try to use food–which isn’t even alive–to meet needs that it can’t? And in our often-harried lives, it’s so easy to slide into poor eating practices. What are your reasons for overeating? Identifying your triggers, habits, and vulnerabilities is the first step towards breaking the cycle. It’s time to form good habits, establish a healthy relationship with food, and give your body the care it deserves.