Do you eat because it’s time to eat, whether you’re hungry or not? A lot of people do, and then feel crappy afterwards.
If the goal is to eat when you’re hungry, does that mean regular meal times are out? No, it doesn’t mean that at all. But figuring out how to make your hunger coincide with meal times is actually a skill. People trying to stop emotional eating probably won’t be able to do this immediately.
If you’re a parent, you’ve heard the debate about whether to feed babies “on demand” (when they cry to be fed – i.e. when they are hungry), or on a schedule (at regular meal times, regardless of whether they are hungry).
A schedule is more convenient for the parent, but infants should be fed on demand until they are old enough to speak and understand the concept of meal times. Before that, if they cry and aren’t fed they just feel like they’re being starved. This can lead to emotional eating issues later in life.
Also, infants can’t regulate their intake to accomodate meal times. The same can be said for an emotional eater in early recovery.
Eating at regular meal times has some advantages. If you work outside the home during the day, you may have preset lunch or dinner hours. If you don’t eat then, you don’t have another chance until you get off work. There is also the social aspect of eating with family and friends. You can’t enjoy dinner with others unless you schedule the meal in advance, and then arrange to be hungry at that time.
But once eating becomes disconnected from hunger, meal times become just an excuse for recreational eating, a habit that no longer serves a function. The reason for scheduling meal times is to free you to do other things at non-meal times. If you’re eating between meals as well as at meals, there is no point to the scheduled meals.
Something to Try…
The best way to break out of this habit is to go back to on-demand eating for a while. Ignore conventional meal times to the extent that your schedule allows, and eat the way infants eat – when you’re hungry. Try this for at least a month, and see how it feels.
Once you get used to eating for hunger, you can slowly work your way back to regular meal times, if this is convenient for you. Note that eating at regular meal times means not eating between meals! With practice, you’ll learn how much you need to eat at each meal to hold you until the next meal. You’ll also find that to be hungry for breakfast, you must stop eating at a certain point in the evening. (This also can help you to sleep better.)
Do you eat at meal times and between meal times, as well? How does it feel to eat “on demand”, independent of conventional meal times?