Continuing our series on hunger, today we are going to explore some non-food based triggers to our hunger.  I find that so many people spin their wheels with diet plan after diet plan, losing the weight only to find it soon thereafter.  A healthy relationship with food is about SO MUCH MORE than just the actual food choices that we make.  When we examine our “why,” our behavioral patterns and thought processes and work to change them, weight loss or maintenance becomes less of a yo-yo scenario and more of a sustainable lifestyle.

As you read through this article, think about your own patterns.  Are you stuck in a cycle of gain and loss?  Are you struggling to find the balance between healthy choices and just throwing in the towel?  I think we will all find at least pieces of ourselves in this article.  Keep reading in the coming weeks as we examine not only hunger but lifestyle and sustainability of a healthy lifestyle.

  1. Behavioral patterns – Ever hear of Pavlov’s dog?  Most people have heard of the great experiments used to show that dogs could be trained to salivate at the sound of a bell.  Even long after the reward was eliminated, the dogs continued to exhibit the salivating response when they heard the bell.  Much like dogs, we as humans respond to behavioral patterning in much the same way.  Have you ever been upstairs in your bedroom late at night not feeling hungry at all, but then you go to the kitchen to get something completely unrelated to food but end up carrying up a plate of nachos?  That instant hunger when you walked into the kitchen is an example of behavioral hunger.  When you entered the kitchen, your body began to secrete hunger hormones, your stomach began to growl, and you started to salivate.  SUDDENLY, out of nowhere, you felt HUNGRY!  This is just one example of “toxic hunger” or hunger that is not based on the actual need for food.
    • Know your behavioral triggers.  Obviously, we can’t know them all, but most people have several scenarios in their lives where this happens.  Maybe it’s a grocery store that you usually go into and instantly feel a craving for the donuts in the bakery.  Maybe it is the place you get your gasoline that causes you to crave a fountain soda.
    • Know your vulnerable times.  Your kitchen may not be a trigger zone at breakfast time but may be a red flag area at 3 in the afternoon.  Knowing your vulnerable times can help you to avoid your trigger zones when it is most difficult.
    • Know your vulnerable social triggers.  Many people have relationships in their lives that trigger out of control eating.  Maybe it is a spouse or a coworker that you engage in this behavior with.  If you have one of these relationships, it is time for a conversation about change.  Set your boundaries and be firm.
  2. Psychological hunger – Psychological hunger is similar to behavioral hunger in that it comes seemingly out of nowhere, feels like physiological hunger, and feels like something that is an uphill battle to fight.  Psychological hunger comes from our thought processes and may or may not be started by behavioral triggers.  Psychological hunger is often a runaway train of thought processes that lead the body to actually be hungry.  There is a real art to dealing with psychological hunger.  While it is a difficult one to tackle, it is worth fighting.  I find that psychological hunger and thought patterns are one of the toughest aspects of weight loss and maintenance as they lead to dependence on willpower which is by no means any way to live life.
  3. Identify your thought patterns – Be aware of the thought patterns that pop into your head when you are first introduced to a familiar food that you have trouble with.  At first, they may be hard to identify as the pattern typically becomes very “knee jerk.”  Once you start to become aware of the thoughts, write them down.
  4. Challenge the thoughts – Once you have a good list of your common thought patterns, CHALLENGE THEM!  Are you justifying foods that long term are hindering your progress.  Challenge the logic of these thoughts.  What do you “crave” more than the food choices?  Do you crave a life free of struggle with food, or are you craving relief from boredom, comfort, or love or just a temporary relief from stress?  Challenging the thoughts is a firm way to get a handle on food justifications.  Challenge the dysfunctional cravings with what you are really craving from your life … freedom from struggle.
  5. Replace the thoughts – Write them down.  Once you have identified your thought patterns and challenged them, replace them with healthier thought patterns, and write them on the paper opposite from the beginning thought pattern.  Think about what really makes sense in your life.  Make sure that your replacement thoughts are realistic and applicable in your life.

The best way to break a habit is with a new habit.  Beating your head against the wall and fighting psychological or behavioral hunger can be frustrating, overwhelming, and make you just want to give up the fight.  Slowly chipping away at these patterns is really the best way to change lifelong patterns into healthier ones.  Start today with this exercise.  In most people, it takes about a week of carrying a note card around with them.  It may seem silly, but the exercise really does work.  If you need help coming up with replacement thoughts, talk through your note card with a trusted friend.  Sometimes it takes an outside perspective to speak clarity into a situation.

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  • Start TODAY to break the cycle of behavioral/psychological eating.  This exercise can be so powerful in identifying and ending the cycle.  Not all hunger comes from a place of actual hunger.