Eat With Purpose through understanding why you are eating

Why should you eat with purpose or rather eat consciously? To try and grasp the concept, let’s start by understanding food. What is food?  Food is one of the basic needs.  Two keywords come to mind when I think of food; nourishment and nutrition.  Food is fuel for the “engine” that is our body. It keeps our hearts beating, our brains functioning, and our muscles moving.  Food provides us with the energy we need in order to function.  The different nutrients in food serve different purposes in our bodies.  The carbohydrates are broken down to provide energy. Fat helps the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins, as well as provide energy when needed.  Protein is important for growth and development. It provides the building blocks for muscles, hair, skin, and cell repair. Protein also provides energy.  Micronutrients also have their functions too.   Minerals keep our bones, heart, brain, and muscles functioning properly. Vitamins act as antioxidants, release energy, and cell repair among other functions.

Why do you want to eat? Hunger, boredom or to meet an emotional need?

Understanding why we eat when we eat is the key to achieving purposeful eating.   Hunger can be homeostatic whereby we are in an energy deficit or it can be hedonic which is pleasurable eating. In homeostatic hunger, our bodies signal us to provide energy through the feeling of hunger.  Hedonic hunger is linked to pleasure eating especially highly palatable foods.  It is that reaching out for dessert, though you have had a hearty meal. It’s reaching out for the chocolate bar, just because you feel you need a cheer.  Are you eating because your body needs the energy, or are you eating to satisfy an emotional need? 

Emotional eating is usually linked to craving specific comfort foods as explained by the help Guide Organisation article on emotional eating. These foods tend to be high in calories such as cakes, confectionery, savoury snacks, or foods such as pizza or chips.  Unlike physical hunger which starts in the stomach, emotional hunger starts from the brain.  You keep thinking of certain foods, and you focus on certain textures, smells, and tastes.  Habits can also lead to emotional eating. If your meal always includes dessert, you are likely to always feel like you are missing something if you don’t get dessert after a meal.  This has been linked to the pleasure and reward pathways in our brains. In plain terms, you can get addicted to certain foods.

Eating with purpose requires discipline and dedication.  It takes a lot of willpower to skip your favourite dessert or to ignore biscuits or chocolate in your cupboard.  It is not just about not succumbing to cravings, but it is more about recognising cravings for what they are and taking countermeasures.  A countermeasure can be, opting to succumb to the temptation but limiting yourself to a small portion.  You can also acknowledge the craving and remind yourself why you shouldn’t succumb and look for an alternative healthier option.  This where willpower comes into play.  Ensuring you have healthy nutritious food at hand also helps.  You can for example have your food batch prepared and ready in the fridge for whenever you feel hungry.

Eating with purpose is conscious eating.  You also need to be present when you eat food.  Avoid distractions such as scrolling through your phone as you eat.  You also need to think about the purpose of the food.  Some examples are, when you plan your post-workout meal, you plan it with the purpose in mind; to provide muscle-building nutrients.  When you eat a slice of cake, you know the purpose is to celebrate an occasion.  When you have your fiber and protein-rich breakfast, it is for energy and satiety during the morning hours. When you reach for the snack, what is the purpose? Hopefully not to keep your hands busy or to keep your mind off things.   Understanding triggers for emotional eating can also help control it.  Do you reach out for comfort foods when you are upset, stressed, or haven’t slept enough?