In an ideal world we would eat because we need food. We are hungry, we need nutrition. But in the real world, tasty temptations are everywhere and healthy meal opps are often few and far between.

Here’s why we really eat… let’s work on changing up these habits. Eating mindfully and for the right reasons play a huge role in weight management and optimal health. 

To get rid of it.

You know what I’m talking about. The 3 French fries your kids didn’t finish. The last gulp of OJ in the carton. The meh dessert at a restaurant. Stuff you wouldn’t eat or drink if it wasn’t screaming at you “Finish me up!”

Resist the temptation to “not waste” food, make room in the fridge, make it disappear, or risk offending someone because you left one cookie in the huge package. Honor your body’s needs. If you need to throw food away, do so — whether food you don’t need or really want ends up in your stomach or in the garbage, it’s wasted. Your health and managing your weight is worth more than that, don’t you think?

Because you must “need” it.

Do you eat ice cream because body “needs” calcium? A burger because you “need” extra protein? Remember that nutrients are found in hundreds of different foods. If you truly craved what your body actually needed for real, you’d be tearing through a bunch of kale for the calcium, and if protein were an issue, your mouth would water just thinking about lentils. Chocolate is a super good source of magnesium, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that your M&M cravings are due to a magnesium deficiency. And don’t give in!

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Because it’s a “special occasion.”

Back in the old days, special eating occasions were, well, special. Nowadays everything seems to be a reason to eat. An office birthday, a baby shower, anniversary, a good report card, a promotion, a new iPhone, happy hour, or just because it’s Tuesday. Celebrations are about the people and the event, not the food. Unless the food is truly special (like your grandma’s once a year lasagna or the winning apple pie at the state fair), pass up the junk. Think about those “I-can-get-this-food-anywhere/anytime” foods, like packaged snacks and fast food--they’re just not worth the calories--and go easy on the booze. When you do, you’ll be able to stick to your plan no problema. 

Because it’s there. 

Don’t underestimate the power of the Seefood diet – see food and eat it. The opposite holds true as well: out of sight, out of mind. I’m talking about the dish of chocolate candies you walk by every time you visit the restroom. The cookie jar while you’re doing dishes. The bag of chips you keep on the kitchen counter (hey, the bag doesn’t fit in the cupboard!).

According to a study conducted by Brian Wansink (Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab director and mindless eating expert) and colleagues, secretaries who had been given candies in clear desktop dishes noshed on them 71 percent more often than those given white dishes. It amounted to 77 calories a day. That’s over 5 pounds of extra fat over one year. Wansink cites classic studies from the 1960s where researchers compared the gobble rate of sandwiches wrapped in clear plastic versus foil. People invariably eat more sandwiches that they can see.

The mere sight of foods gets us thinking about it, both consciously and subconsciously. Thinking about it is the first step towards eating it, whether we’re hungry or not. The solution is simple: hide foods you don’t want to eat, and make it more convenient to munch on healthy stuff. Get the junk out of sight and decorate your environment with a bowl of fruit or a plate of raw vegetable strips or a protein bar. These are your weapons against the more malicious mindless munching. 

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Because you’re stressed. Or sad. Or bored. Or tired. 

No doubt about it, most of us eat for emotional reasons at some time or another. Whether it’s grazing on chips to procrastinate a dreaded project, head-first diving into that pint of ice cream late at night, or tearily popping M&Ms by the handful after a breakup, deep down you know that this habit piles on the pounds. And it’s no mystery why we do it, even though we know it’s not a good idea: Food is comfort. Food is associated with good feelings. Food is nurturing. But to combat emotional eating issues, we really do need to examine our relationship with food and ask ourselves why we’re eating. It’s important to separate hunger from cravings, needs from urges. How can you do that?

Well, for one, figure out if you’re hungry or not. You know what true hunger feels like: low blood sugar, growling tummy, and it’s been a while since your last meal. Chances are, you can comfortably go another hour or two before sitting down to your next meal or snack.

Second, identify exactly why you are considering eating even though you’re not hungry. Once you identify the emotion and its cause, think of ways you can solve the issue or get through it. Get help from a friend, attack the problem head-on, come up with a series of action steps or coping mechanisms that address the root cause.

Next, try the 5-D approach: Delay, Determine, Distract, Distance, Decide. Read more about this effective craving-busting approach here.

Finally, forgive yourself if you overdo once in a while. We are all human after all, and we are always striving to learn from our mistakes and improve. Start over and be better each time!

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by Dina Aronson, MS, RDN

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