Last week, we discussed the two types of hunger, homeostatic and non-homeostatic. Whenever we eat for emotional or stress reasons, or when we eat mindlessly, we are engaging in non-homeostatic hunger. Simply focusing on eating less or eating more balanced is not going to help you manage this type hunger. Instead non Homeostatic hunger is ruled largely by the brain and our brain’s reward pathways that link eating palatable foods to pleasure.
If this type of hunger is sabotaging your health and weight loss goals, try these 5 tips:
1. Know your triggers. The first step is to increase your awareness of what triggers your non-homeostatic hunger. Instead of feeling guilty when your eating goes off the rails, take the opportunity to learn what sent you diving into that bowl of Hagen Daas or the bag of chips. Having knowledge about what your top triggers are allows you the ability to be proactive and create a game plan.
2. Clean out your environment. Even a balanced and highly committed brain is going to succumb to temptation in the presence of great tasting highly rewarding foods. We are led to believe we should stock treats for our children or in case of company – Absolutely Not! That is just a part of the marketing jargon that contributes to our Obesogenic environment. I think it is fine to eat tasty treats in ‘moderation’ but stocking them in your house just in case is setting you up to fail.
3. Find constructive ways to off load stress. Your stress load increases during the day unless you are actively finding ways to manage it. A stressed brain is not able to internally regulate its reward pathways and instead turns to outside behaviors, chemicals, etc such as food. Using exercise, yoga, deep breathing, mediation, etc can help your brain stay in balance and more resistant to cravings or other unhealthy drives.
4. Collect moments of joy. Managing stress is important but go one step further and find ways to build moments of joy into you day. Moments of joy are when the brain is highly rewarded and there is an activation of the reward pathways of the brain. This leads to a wave of relaxation felt in the body. The more moments of joy you can collect the more balanced the brain stays and the less likely you will be plagued with drives to overeat.
5. Let go of the guilt. Don’t despair if you find yourself re-engaging in reward eating, remember this is normal. Don’t waste your energy on feeling guilty as that will further reinforce the pattern. Instead get proactive and go back to step 1.
Because non-homeostatic eating is brain-based, it is self reinforcing which means the more we do it or that longer we have engaged in that behavior, the harder it is to change. However the brain is ‘plastic’ which means its circuits can be changed with persistence and repetition. Therefore, be patient with yourself, aim for slow progress vs. perfection.
For more support and tools to rewire non-homeostatic eating check out our Emotional Brain Training Basics course starting April 4th.