Sunday, Oct 17, 2021

Eating When We’re Not Hungry: Is the Pantry or Jesus Calling Your Name?

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Jennifer Hunt, RDN, LD
Jennifer Hunt, RDN, LD is a nutrition communications dietitian whose joy and passion is to empower women to live healthy, balanced lives that are fulfilling and free of guilt and shame. She loves sharing real-life strategies to choosing nourishing foods, fitting in fitness and looking beyond the mirror. Jennifer enjoys encouraging women on her blog, Healthy Inspiration, taking walks with her daughter, cooking with her husband and trying out different kinds of physical activity.

The house is finally quiet.  Bedtime stories have been read and kisses given. We have talked with Jesus and reassured our kids that they are treasured and well-loved. It’s finally time for a little mommy time.

Is it me? Or does it sound like the pantry is calling?  

It’s not uncommon for me to find myself thinking about food after all my kids are in bed and the evening is coming to a close. It’s not hunger. I don’t need any more fuel. For me, it’s finally a moment when I can enjoy a meal in peace.  

There are no disruptions – no spills to clean, hands to wipe down for the third time, no requests for ‘more,’ no table manner training to conduct.  No one is kicking me under the table and no one is doing acrobats in their seat. That’s a skill to leave well enough alone.  

There is a sense of satisfaction that I showed up all day, did hard things, and frequently adapted my game plan to fit the needs of my family. Sometimes, satisfaction is also mixed with discontent that I didn’t get to things that mattered to me. Many days I feel empty by the end, and pride tells me that all my self-sacrificing behaviors are worthy of an endorphin hit.

The end of the day… It’s just a moment that feels right to fill with a tiny bit of pleasure.

Why is Eating When We’re Not Hungry So Common?

eating when we're not hungryThere are so many reasons why we may feel a longing to eat when we are not hungry. In moments of sadness, uncertainty, anger, and frustration, many turn to food to stuff feelings we don’t like, don’t want, and don’t know how to sit with.  

Sometimes, we are trying to escape emotions we feel but can’t label. Mamas who are feeling exhausted and drained may be looking for a moment of pleasure. Individuals who have restricted sugar or ‘forbidden foods’ may be longing to indulge, dreaming of a favorite treat.

And, adults aren’t the only ones who think about food when they aren’t physically hungry.  It’s not uncommon for kids to ask for a snack when they are bored, avoiding schoolwork, indecisive about where to spend their time, or feeling uncomfortable feelings.

Here are a few things you should know:

  • God doesn’t shame us when we eat and we aren’t hungry.
  • You aren’t ‘bad’ or ‘good’ if you eat or don’t eat.
  • You aren’t ‘better than’ or ‘less than’ based on the types of food you eat.
  • It’s okay to eat when you’re not hungry. 

All these things are true.

Something else that is true is that God has given us charge of our body and caring for it.  If there are behaviors that you don’t feel are life-giving or are making you feel lousy, lethargic, or out of control, you can change that.  If there are family behaviors that don’t line up with family food values, you can change that, too.

So where do you start?

To Eat or Not to Eat

eating when we're not hungryHere are 3 questions to consider when it comes to your meal pattern and when you decide to eat:

1. Do I have a general schedule for meals?

It’s not necessary to follow any rigid schedule, but having a flexible one gives intention to nourishing your body. Skipping meals leads to intense hunger and cravings which makes mindful, intentional eating difficult.  

Set yourself (and your family) up for success by creating a time frame and sticking to it.  As seasons change, you will likely have to revamp it and that is totally okay, too!  If you are married or have older children, ask for their input.  This is a great way to get buy-in and to set up a routine that will actually work.

Example: B- 8am; L- 12pm; S- 3pm; D- 6:30pm

2. Do I close the kitchen between meals and snacks?

Go ahead and do it – close the kitchen when it is not mealtime.  This lets you and your family know that unless it is a designated meal or snack time, food isn’t available. This mental shift is huge and can really stifle extra snacking and munching, especially when we are feeling uncomfortable feelings.

Remind yourself and your family that when it is meal or snack time to “eat until your tummy is happy” because the next meal is several hours away.  

3. Do I sit down to eat every meal AND snack?

There is something about the ritual of sitting down to eat a meal and praying over it that identifies it as an actual meal – a time to nourish. When we are standing or multi-tasking as we munch, it can reduce the pleasure of eating the meal and we can lose track of how much we have consumed.  

The practice of eating at a table naturally causes us to give attention to the food in front of us and we can more easily assess our body’s natural cues of hunger and satiety.  

Let’s be real. There can still be a lot of distractions at the dinner table, many that we cannot control. Parents still have to parent. But, standing to eat breakfast or tidying up between bites of lunch isn’t going to make you any more mindful.

So, what’s the play call?

Food can comfort when we are bored, exhausted, anxious, sad, angry, and emotional – but it will never fill us up.  

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. Matt 11:28-30 (MSG)

Your pantry isn’t calling your name – Jesus is, and He is offering to fill you with a loving hug.

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