"Why do you eat?" I ask that question a lot to people who come to me for health coaching. They usually look at me pretty strangely, forcing me to repeat the question and wait for an answer.
I'll hear any number of responses.
"Because I'm hungry."
"Because I'm bored."
"Because I'm celebrating"
"Because food tastes good."
"Because I'm fueling my body."
The last one is really the one that I'm interested in, but it's the one I hear the least.
We eat for all kinds of reasons, but for some of us, it's not the right reasons. Food is everywhere. Food is how we celebrate, how we connect, how we mourn and even how we pass the time. Food does taste good, and it should taste good.
I'm not suggesting that anyone stop having coffee at their coffee dates, stop taking the kids out for ice cream (once in a while) or stop having cake at their birthday parties; but let's not forget the main reason why we should be eating.
Food is fuel for our bodies. When we are properly fueled we can do all the things that we need and want to do. Food gives us energy to do our jobs, play with the kids, go out and run, walk or ride our bikes. Most people I talk to are more concerned about the kind of gas they put in their cars than they are with the type of food they put in their bodies.
We are filled up with greasy, fatty, overly-processed foods that may taste good going down, but do nothing for our systems once they are digested. People come to me wondering why they are sluggish, gassy and irritable. They wonder why their skin is breaking out, why they have headaches all the time, and why they are out of breath walking to the mailbox.
Many people come to me feeling like crap after years of eating crap yet somehow have never made the connection that what they are eating could be the root of their problems.
When we eat for reasons other than fuel, it can sometimes lead to unhealthy overeating. This happens because when we are eating to fill a void other than hunger, the food never actually fills the void.
I was a binge eater for a very long time, and it only got worse after I got divorced and started living alone. Suddenly, there was no one there to "police" my eating, no one there to see how many slices of pizza I had eaten, or how quickly I had emptied a box of cookies.
I was eating all the wrong things and for all the wrong reasons. Eating was no longer about being hungry, it was about entertainment, it was about enjoyment, but most of all, it was about distraction. When I was eating, I was focused on the food and that allowed me to stop focusing on how lonely or unhappy I was feeling.
When I started asking myself the question, "why are you eating," I started to come to terms with my food issues. Now, if the answer to that question is anything other than, "because I'm hungry," I stop myself.
This is not to say that I never have a treat from time-to-time, just because it tastes good; I still do that, and I encourage you to do it too. But most of the time when I eat now it's because I'm hungry and I need to fuel my body.
If I'm going out for a run, I know I need a certain type of fuel to help me with that activity. I fuel up for a day of work, or to ride my bike, even sitting down to relax at the end of a long day requires its own type of fuel.
Each time you consume food you are making a decision about what and how much your will eat. Making the decision to eat to healthy and fuel your body with quality foods will pay dividends. With each bite of food you can properly care for your body and protect your health and vitality.
The next time you sit down to eat, ask yourself the question of why you are eating, and then, pay attention to the answer. If you're hungry and need to refuel, eat something. If you're bored and need entertainment, watch a movie.
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.