Are you really hungry? Didn’t you just eat? Are you wanting to eat because you’re bored? Maybe you just think you’re hungry because you see me eating.
Kids are notorious for eating for no reason…at least in the United States. It doesn’t matter how much they’ve just had for dinner…if they see someone else eating, hear someone talking about or even the SIGHT of food somewhere they think they’re hungry again. It’s highly unlikely that they actually still need food (especially with the serving sizes in the States), so how is it that they feel the need to consume more? Even seeing the refrigerator, freezer, pantry, cupboards or food on the counter can ignite this imagined feeling of “hunger”…but it’s not actually hunger. What is it?
Are you upset or excited about something? Are you feeling the need for comfort? Are you just looking for something to fill your time?
Of course, this issue doesn’t apply to children alone. In general, we (as human beings) like to rely on food for all of our needs or those which aren’t being provided for. Need love? Eat something. Need to calm down? Eat something. Angry? Eat something. Excited? Eat something. Happy? Eat something.
Is it possible we’ve confused the signals our brains are sending? It may be possible that we’ve trained ourselves (unknowingly) to rely on food as a stabilizer for our lives rather than self-comfort. Any feelings that come up for us whether good or bad, happy or sad, enjoyable or miserable can be dulled through the use of food. When your body is focused on digestion, the rest of your body relaxes and blood flow increases in your digestive organs. You won’t be thinking as much or focusing on other things right? Good in theory, bad in practice.
The problem is, when you’re experiencing these strong emotions your blood and energy is already focused elsewhere. When we then add the physical stress of food digestion to the mix, which system do you think suffers most? The whole darn thing! It WILL detract energy and blood flow from whatever you were previously concentrating on (distracting you, in a way), but because you were already physiologically occupied elsewhere, your stomach isn’t going to get the energy and blood flow it needs either. Both sides will suffer and slow down, which will then trigger the need for added fuel for energy…enter in carbs, sugar and caffeine…which, initially may speed you up but after a short time will bring the whole system to an even slower pace. It’s one crazy downward spiral from there.
So how do we stop the progress of this crazy cycle? Well, first comes education…how is it possible to make changes when we don’t even know what’s happening and why? We know there’s a health and obesity crisis which seems to be spreading across the world, but we don’t seem to understand it. The majority of what you find on a daily basis (in books, news, articles, internet…EVERYWHERE) is the next food culprit for EVERYTHING that has gone wrong with our health. Is it possible that it’s the combination in several things and the answer isn’t in the food, itself, but in the psychology behind our connection to the food?
In psychology we studied the work of a Russian scientist named Ivan Petrovich Pavlov. Pavlov is most famous for his work in classical conditioning. He studied the salivation of dogs before and after receiving food and found that when a dog knew it was about to receive food it’s mouth would produce more saliva. He wanted to test to see if he could associate that response with other stimuli so he added the sound of a bell when he brought out the food. Eventually after doing this for some time, he removed the food altogether but the dog continued to produce more saliva when he heard the sound of the bell. Did the dog want to eat the bell? Well maybe…but probably not. The bell was conditioned into the mind of the dog as a consequence of receiving food when he/she heard it.
If you think about it, we do this as people. Whenever something amazing happens, how do we celebrate it? Food. Whenever friends and family get together, what do we do? Eat. Whenever we’re remembering or celebrating a holiday what do we do? Consume traditional foods. What about when something goes wrong? You break up: ice cream, chocolate, food. You lose your job: probably some drinking first…followed by more food. Want to be entertained? Grab some food and we’ll sit around being entertained for hours! Hate yourself? Eat the pain away with something greasy. Love yourself? Treat yourself with something decadent. Nervous? Snack on something.
If we don’t start by understanding the mechanism behind our food-filled world culture, how are we ever supposed to change it? Education is key!
Secondly, making changes to our conditioning is crucial. We need to change how we think and act toward food. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy food in the way that it was meant to be experienced…but the frequency and volume we’re consuming today is by far above and beyond what’s necessary to sustain life and happiness.
So utilizing Pavlov’s theory, how can we retrain ourselves and our societies away from food and toward healthier responses? First off, we need better reward systems and ideas. In the US when someone has done something right it’s extremely common to celebrate with food. Parents use it to manipulate and condition their children’s behavior how they’d prefer it to be, we use it for holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, weekends, get-togethers, reunions, prizes…even as a celebration for making it to a dietary goal (like losing weight)! We’ve come to rely so heavily on edible happiness that I’m not sure many of us know how to be happy without it involved.
Next, I think it’s important to start asking questions before we start inhaling our food and throughout the entire dining process. Do you know what you just ate? Can you taste what you’re eating when you devour it that quickly? Does it even taste good or is it just providing for a need? If there was a need being provided for right now, what would it be? Am I full? Can I feel pain in my stomach? Am I just eating because I like the sensations of taste hitting my tongue? These are just a few examples, but if we were open to asking them honestly and honoring the true responses that come back from them, I think we’d find ourselves realizing we don’t need to eat nearly as much or as often as we do…and that quality actually makes a difference.
I understand there’s no quick solution to this rising issue, but if ever there was a time to start making progress in the right direction…this would be the time! It isn’t too late to reverse the damage that’s already been done and to prevent future generations from experiencing the pain and discomfort that comes not only in the form of obesity but also as diseases of the mind and body and numerous debilitating allergies. It’s time to step up and make changes to our traditions which will strengthen, empower and unite us in healthy, happy and fun ways!