On hunger vs. habit.

I’ve made it no secret that I keep a food log. I’ve been doing so for over a year now (since the barre n9ne 60-day challenge kicked off last May) and it’s been nothing short of eye-opening. Not just in terms of what I was doing before that was undermining my efforts to get healthier and more fit, but also in terms of what my body truly needs for fuel and how strongly addicted to “patterns” we all are.

And by “patterns” I mean eating out of habit or scheduled “feeding time” versus eating when your body tells you “I’m  hungry.”
…eating out of hunger vs. habit.

So that’s what I’m here to talk about today. Not rehashing the whole “why I log” thing or what I’ve learned from it (I’m thinking I’ll cover that in a future “why I log: revisited” style post in the near future), but what I’ve been noticing lately about my journey towards mindfulintuitive eating. And patterns. 

For me, what’s been so cool lately is to see my body naturally telling me more and more clearly just what it needs, when it needs it, instead of blindly eating just because it’s my normal “lunchtime” or “snack time” or whatever.  And even if I am eating during a ‘planned’ feeding time, what I’m eating is changing.

For instance – I used to be very, very tied to a specific idea for what my PM snack should look like, how many calories it should have and when I should be eating it. Typically, my PM snack time would fall between 3-4pm and would usually be a greek yogurt or something equivalent to about 150-175 calories. And I’d eat it regardless of how hungry I was. I’m finding that lately I’m really questioning myself first before I eat. “Am I hungry? How hungry am I? Do I need more of a snack, less of a snack today?”

I’m basically measuring my hunger by what my body tells me, ignoring previous patterns or habits. <–a huge mindset shift for me

So sometimes my PM snack becomes an iced coffee and a Healthy Bite (courtesy of this girl, who rocks – like whoa), on a day where my lunch was more filling than other days. Or I’m honestly just less hungry than I was the previous day at snack time for whatever reason.

And other times, my snack becomes more substantial — a Chobani yogurt, or cottage cheese with fresh fruit and chia, or an apple with peanut butter.

I’m now eating out of hunger, not out of habitor worse, out of a need to mindlessly munch (my biggest pitfall before).

Another example. Lately,  lunchtime has been my “hungry horrors” time of day. For those of you who follow me on twitter, you’ve seen a lot of #isitlunchtimeyet hashtags from me. ;-) Since that time of day has been my super-hungry time lately, I’m naturally gravitating towards really fueling, energizing lunchtime choices. Which lately have involved lots of wraps — I’m on a huge wrap-with-lots-of-protein-and-other-yummies kick with a side of fresh fruit or veggies.

(my lunch last Friday — a Flatout wrap with tuna made with greek yogurt, chopped cucumber and pickles and a side of mini sweet peppers)

And I’ve been noticing just how filling that option has been for me — when in the past, I would’ve been ready for a snack a couple of hours later, I’m now finding that my lunch has been filling me up really fast and sticking with me for a long, long time.

I’d like to think this is my body telling me how happy it is with the amount (and type) of calories its getting from me on a regular, very consistent basis now.

And now that I’m jotting all of these learnings down here, I’m starting to think that I might finally be at that point where I can call myself an intuitive eater. It’s something I’ve always wanted to get to — the point where I’m learning to eat what I want, when my body needs it, not just when I happen to want to munch – regardless of hunger.

(and it couldn’t come at a better time when I’m diving into marathon training and will *really* need to tune into my body’s fueling cues in a smart, mindful way – vs. allowing myself to fall into the trap of “well I ran 12 miles, I can eat all day if I want to, even if I’m not hungry.” Been there, done that, not doing it again.)

Seeing my body respond the way it has lately has been really, really cool — and to see me listening to my body in that way is a new experience for me (new as in a year long journey), and one that I’m really proud to share with you here. Not just because it’s been a long road to this mindful place, but because it’s something I’d urge you to really think about. Are you eating out of hunger? A pattern? A habit? Nothing at all (i.e. mindless)? 

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49 thoughts on “On hunger vs. habit.

  1. oh i love how healthy bites are part of this! i do the same! and to be honest, it takes a lot of time to actually let our bodies speak, yes? I tend eat a later brunch now and then a bigger dinner with some kind of shake after. I used to to think that we need to eat every 3 hrs. Well now, that works for some people, i also think that if we didn’t wear watches or know the time, our bodies would be much more in sync with what it needs. Yes?

    • Healthy Bites are in serious rotation in my world these days! I am down to my LAST TWO fiber bites. I am SO SAD!!!

      But back to your comment — I LOVE what you said about letting our bodies speak and actually LISTENING to them when they do. It’s amazing, incredible, and beautiful when it finally happens – that mind/body connection. I can’t believe I’m finally getting there, it’s been a LONG journey and I’m loving where I’m heading these days. It just feels RIGHT.

  2. I speak from experience, you will get much hungrier as you train for the race! Definitely listen to your body.

    That said, I currently do struggle with listening to mine because I feel like it’s constantly telling me that I want to eat. I have a very hard time differentiating whether or not I’m actually hungry.

    • Oh I definitely WILL be listening to my body throughout marathon training — I did notice during the last round of half marathon training that my body was definitely adjusted to that mileage during training and I was able to eat basically the same way I had been eating previously (i.e. no big uptick in calories eaten per day), I just leaned on more FUELING foods than before, especially on longer run days. So we’ll see how this pans out for marathon training!!

      It IS hard to figure out if what you’re feeling is hunger, boredom, thirst or NOTHING at all but what I like to call “phantom” munchies. It’s taken me well over a year to figure out what my body has been saying and I STILL struggle with it sometimes. I’m not perfect, I’m getting there, you know?

      • Chiming in here too. My body had adjusted to where my normal intake didn’t need more for any half marathon training….but marathon training was a whole new level. I was able to eat fairly normally during the week but long run days and the day after – gotta eat more!

      • That’s what I’m anticipating will happen for me too – the day of a long run/day after will be a total hungry horror day as the mileage REALLY gets up there. I’m bracing myself!

  3. Great post-but I also feel like one can be so used to their routine they forget to eat more even when their mileage doubles because they are so used to their eating patterns-gotta remember to stay fueled!

    • YES. Absolutely – this can work both ways for sure.I absolutely recognize the importance of staying fueled — but since marathon training is so new to me, I need to take a ‘wait and see’ approach to see how my body reacts before I make any plans on what I need to do differently (or not) with my calorie ‘budget’ per day. It could mean an extra snack, it could mean different meal options, it could be any number of things, it’s just hard to say until I’m deeper into training when the mileage gets higher than what my body is adjusted to (which will happen sometime in late-July based on my training plan).

  4. It really can be easy to fall into the trap of habit. And in a lot of ways you train your body to just be hungry at that set time each day, or to think you’re hungry at least. I think in a lot of ways it’d be like someone reaching for a smoke at a particular time just because that’s what they’re used to doing at say 2pm each day.

    • That is a GREAT way to put it – the smoking thing. Absolutely – any habit is so much easier to keep than it is to break. But once you truly start listening and stop caving to habits and patterns, its amazing what you “hear.”

  5. I’m a food logger too. I think it’s a great way to keep track of what you’re doing when it comes to eating. I think it’s just as important for those trying to lose weight as it is for those that workout regularly or are in training. I recently felt a shift in my hunger and keeping a log helped me determine how to adapt to my new hunger needs. I normally do eat on a schedule, but I think that’s really due to the fact that I eat a similar amount of nutrients at certain times of the day. Although, I do adjust my needs based on how I feel at that time. Great post!

    • I actually really LOVE my food log — its become my best friend in the past year and I fully appreciate it for all that it’s opened my eyes to. I’m now learning to listen, listen, listen before reacting, Which is HUGE for someone like me who has always had a tough time both listening and detaching the emotion from food. I know it’s going to come in SO HANDY when I’m deep in the throes of marathon training too. SO glad it’s working for you too, that’s so great.

  6. I can totally relate with the PM snack. As I began reading this post I was thinking I totally eat my PM snack just to have it, even when I’m not even hungry sometimes, just out of habit. I always tell myself I’m nursing and need the extra calories, but in reality, it’s just not true. You do need extra calories while nursing, but you don’t need to be eating when you’re body clearly isn’t hungry. I like keeping food journals and keep them on and off. I actually restarted mine yesterday. It really helps me to steer clear of junk foods and extra foods I tend to eat during the day. I like that it also helps to to get a good picture of how many fruits and vegetables I’m consuming along with proteins.

    • Exactly. It is SUCH a fine line, isn’t it? That’s how I feel about marathon training – similar to your breast feeding example. Sure, I may wind up running a lot farther (than I’m used to) on ONE day a week once I get deep into marathon training, and maybe then I’ll need an extra snack or a bigger snack during the day, but I don’t want to fall into the trap of “Oh I’m marathon training, I need to eat a TON” because I know my body doesn’t need that kind of influx in calories. I just have that sense. Of course, if I DO find that deep into training, I am needing to vary my diet in terms of the types of foods I eat, I will certainly do that, but I just don’t want to start eating mindlessly or “just because” I’m training for this marathon. Know what I mean?

      I am loving my food logging ways and am so glad you are re-embracing yours in a good way too, its such a great tool.

  7. Really enjoyed reading this because this has been a focus area for me as of late.

    When I was marathon training I found that listening to my body was a huge part of the process. I craved lots of protein and I found myself eating a massive amounts of eggs. I was also into pasta (go figure!), but not heavy portions. I would want it as healthy as possible- think whole wheat pasta with sauteed spinach and cherry tomatoes. And oatmeal. Everyday with the oatmeal! It was crazy because my body wanted (NEEDED!) healthier, high in protein foods to perform. Since the marathon I have been struggling with balance.

    Also, I would bring healthy bites, or protein balls with me on my long runs. Sometimes Gu or gels repulsed me and popping one or two of these balls would give me the calories and protein that I needed for the run. :-)

    • LOVE your insight, friend. I knew you’d have some great words to share given your recent experience with marathon training and its impact on your eating habits. I am totally anticipating that the types of food I gravitate towards now may change once I’m well into marathon training and longer and longer runs. I KNOW oatmeal will be in heavy rotation (because let’s be honest, when is it NOT in my world??), and that I’ll probably have a similar reaction as you — lots of protein and complex carbs, that’s typically what my body looks for on a heavier workout day for sure. I’ll be sharing lots of insights and eye openers on that front throughout this process, I am sure!!

      Good idea on bringing “real food” on longer runs, I’m thinking I’ll need to do that for sure. I can only eat so many honey stingers, ya know?

  8. I’m a food logger too. I can’t agree with you more. I used to prepare a meal and figure out its calories and then sit and eat the whole thing. If I got full while eating, I ignored it. I’ve learned so much over the last few years and am finally at a point where I can stop eating when I’m full. Even if my food log already shows the full portion. Eating when you are hungry and stopping when full is a powerful tool. Great job!

    • Right?? I used to do the same — eating way more than I needed just because it was on my plate. Now I really think about it before I even put it ON my plate and even then, I’ve gotten better at figuring out if what’s left on my plate is something I NEED to eat or if I’m wanting it just because its THERE. It’s HARD to do but it can be done, it just takes a LOT of practice!! It is a POWERFUL tool once you figure it all out though, you are so right!

  9. Love your post sis! I completely agree, it’s just so interesting to see how we are evolving with our eating. I have a similar post in mind too, but also around revisiting the log and my mindset now. I just feel at peace with food more than I used to. And I LOVE what Lindsay says – takes your body awhile to ‘speak’ – SO SO true!!

    • It has been SUCH an incredibly eye opening year+ since we both started logging and really trying to tune into our bodies more. I feel so so so at peace with things lately on that front and it just makes me so happy…especially since you are “there” too. Amazing, huh?

  10. Love this post. Intuitive eating is something I’m striving for right now. I’ve just started to journal my food and it helps … When I remember to journal. Ha.

    • The food log/journal is such a great tool — good luck with your intuitive eating journey! I plan to write more about this topic in the future so come back and visit in the future, love to have you!

  11. love this post.. I think it’s natural to be in a routine in all aspects of our lives, including eating. So when the clock strikes a certain time, we eat xyz, every day. I think it makes a HUGE difference to listen to what your body is telling you – I think even working out in the morning (versus afternoon/evening) can change your eating patterns/timing throughout the day, and thats OKAY. Such a wise post – thank you!!

    • Ohhh yes, absolutely — time of day workout-wise can be a HUGE indicator of how my eating pattern will shape up for that day. It’s really amazing what can happen when you start listening and focusing again, huh?

      SO glad you liked the post my friend!

    • It takes a LOT of work and focus and effort, but it can happen…and I never ever EVER thought it would happen to me. So I guess I’m some kind of proof/hope that it does exist??

  12. Alright, question for ya…I know you log food. Do track your calories as well?

    I need to start being better about logging my food. Awareness has been the hardest for me…being mindful of what I eat, when I eat, and why I eat is the only way I’m going to get out of the trap of the up and down scale. (Luckily, it’s slowly and steadily going down now…)

    I’ll say what I say all the time. I love this post. ;)

    • Yup, I track my calories — I eat the same amount of calories every single day, weekends included, regardless of my workouts. The types of foods I eat on a heavier workout day may change (and usually do) but not the amount of calories. And that works so well for me, my body has responded incredibly well to that approach in the last year and I’m sticking with it. My body likes it here, clearly. :)

      Awareness and mindfulness has been SUCH a theme for me this past year, not just with food but with all areas of my life and its made such a difference. My workouts are more focused, my eating is more mindful and my take on “life” is more aware.

      The logging thing can seem daunting at first (especially when counting calories) — if you need ANY advice or words of wisdom, you know where to find me, friend!

  13. I strictly eat out of hunger and not habit. It makes an amazing difference for me because I don’t feel the need to log or count calories or track. As long as I know I’m making proper choices in my meals and snacks!

    • That’s great that you’ve figured out how to JUST eat out of hunger, never out of habit. It’s taken me a long time to get there but now that I’m here, it’s the best feeling.

  14. lately…i’ve definitely been eating out of habit..aka boredom. i think ive sort of given myself feel range since becoming pregnant but i hate that ive done that bc it totally not necessary. you only need 300 extra calories a day so getting in the habit of eating anything whenever is not great…im trying to be better about it-but its tough!

    • I can imagine how TOUGH it would be to listen to your body while pregnant when all you want to do is eat. Honestly, it’s got to be VERY HARD. But you know what? You’re doing your best to grow a beautiful little one in there and as long as you’re eating well MOST of the time, I think you’re on the right path here. And plus, you look SO GREAT with your cute little pregnant belly!! :)

  15. first off, I have to admit — when I first read the title I thought it said “hungover vs. habit” I was incredibly intrigued. bahaha. then I blinked a few times and realized my eyes were just playing tricks on me hahaha.

    BUT with that said — this is a really great post. I’m plenty guilty of eating out of habit. Both the things I put into my body, and the times of day I eat. Every day at 1pm on the dot I find myself taking lunch and stuffing my face, even if I’m not truly “hungry” the past several months I’ve been working on this and though the habits arent entirely kicked — they’re significantly better. The first step is admitting a problem right?! ;)

    • LOL I *love* that you thought the title of my post included the word “hangover” in it. That is a riot!!

      I’m so glad this post resonated with you though — I think we ALL have that habit of eating for a specific pattern or routine, it’s just our nature as a nation, you know? But getting back to basics and REALLY thinking about what your body is telling you is so eye opening and actually really refreshing to get so basic and back to what we were MEANT to do as a human population, you know? Sorry, that was WAY deep wasn’t it?? LOL!

  16. So great that you can call yourself an intuitive eater and that, through this whole process, you are so much more in sync with your body and what it needs. Hunger vs. habit is still a hard one for me as I’ve realized these last couple of weeks. Habit definitely kicks in for me when I’m stressed. That’s the hardest habit for me to break (tho’ the green smoothies have helped a bit). When I’m mindful about what I eat and when I eat, it’s so great. When I’m not, not so great. Work in progress, no?

    • TOTALLY a work-in-progress exercise for sure. It’s not something that will happen overnight. I actually don’t think anyone can ever FULLY be an intuitive eater 100% of the time, it’s a constant learning process, a constant refinement. At least that’s my take on it, you know?

  17. Great post and good to hear you’re an intuitive eater. I try and listen to my body too and to hear what’s saying and what it needs. I don’t keep a food log but I think it’s a good idea. I try and set myself fun challenges. I did thr Beachbody ultimate reset and loved it. Really glowed after it, now I’m using the two Bwst of clean eating books for recipe ideas. Though all my healthy eating goes out the window when I’m having dinners out and a few drinks.

  18. Love this post, Jess. It sounds like you’re really learning to listen to your body and understand what it wants NOW/where these wants and cravings are coming from. Your tuna wrap looks phenomenal, and SO something I would eat for lunch. We are so similar when it comes to our eating…I love it : )

    • Seriously. After reading your post today, it is SO cool to see how alike we are in our approach to healthy eating. Love that! PS that was probably my best-ever tuna wrap. It turned out SO GOOD, love subbing greek yogurt for mayo in the recipe. Yum!

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