Some days,  is so hard to have a healthy relationship with our bodies, and know when we are really hungry! There are many environmental cues that impact our desire to eat. Food advertising on buses, convenience stands, and snack foods at grocery store check outs are just a few examples. Our emotions can also affect our eating habits, whether we’re celebrating a birthday or relieving stress at the end of a long day. Both the environment and our emotions are external factors that affect our eating habits- and we’re often not consciously aware of it.

Eating without awareness is called mindless eating. You can think of it like eating on autopilot. Many men and women struggle with mindless eating. We eat upwards of five times per day (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks in between)… which is about 1800 times per year. It’s no wonder we can eat without really thinking about it!

From a biological perspective, we eat for energy. It’s like putting gasoline in our car. We need food to survive, and our bodies send us hunger cues to remind us when to eat. But with mindless eating, our bodies get mixed up. When we eat mindlessly, it’s usually in response to feelings (whether we’re happy, sad, glad, mad, stressed, bored, or relaxed) or other reminders like sights, sounds, and smells that make us want to eat. Try to tell me you don’t start salivating when you pass by the Cinnabon stand at the mall…. it’s impossible!

When we eat, whether we’re hungry or not, the neurotransmitter dopamine is released. This dopamine acts on the pleasure centres of our brain- much to the same effect of alcohol or drugs. This is the body’s natural reward system that makes us feel good when we eat. Because after all… we have to eat to survive.

The problem is: the more often we eat just to get that reward system fired up, to get those ‘feel good’ centers of the brain turned on, the less our brains actually respond to the food we eat. What does this mean? It takes more and more food to get the same feel good effect.

Dr. Pam Peeke describes this phenomenon in her book, The Hunger Fix. When we eat for pleasure only, we’re responding to our ‘food fixes’. And one of the biggest problems with this is we forget to how to recognize our hunger and fullness cues.

If you’ve read this far, congratulations! This is a great starting point for becoming a mindful eater. There are many different strategies to retrain your brain to listen to your instinctual need for food. Whether it’s intentional, intuitive or conscious eating… they all fit under the umbrella of Mindful Eating.

This is the first of a three part blog series, where you’ll learn about the benefits of mindful eating, the steps to become a mindful eater, and strategies to recognize your own internal hunger cues.

Before you jump to the next post, take some time to reflect on your own eating habits. The next time you find yourself looking through the fridge or snack cupboard for something to nibble on, stop. Take a minute to ask yourself: “am I really hungry?”. Take a moment to reflect on other things that might be driving your eating: Boredom? Sadness? Habit? When you do this, you’ll know that you’ve started your journey to becoming a mindful eater.