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  • Writer's pictureTami

Why You Can't Outsmart Mindless Eating

"Just use your willpower." I actually heard another wellness professional say that. As if your ability to overpower your body's base emotions, triggers, and needs was actually possible, and more, a badge of honor.

Willpower is shit. Why would you want to take all of the things that nature has put into place to keep you alive and then ignore them because it wasn't convenient for you? I'm sorry, living isn't convenient? You want me to mold my body to the image of some airbrushed, made-up, impossible standard just because society has been warped into believing that it's the image we are "supposed" to be?


Let's unpack this before my head explodes. First, you are unique and beautiful and the number on your scale is shit. OK, maybe not total shit, but definitely not a complete measure of health and fitness. In fact, weight doesn't even rank in the top three. So know your basic range of body mass (i.e. 150-160 lbs or whatever) and use that as a guide to stay on top of your habits. Topping 165 lbs? Are you having ice cream three times a day, maybe don't do that.

Let's move on. You have hunger for a reason, and even moods that are connected to hunger hormones is part of the design of human beings. To say "no thank you hunger, I'm going to skip food this week" is counter-intuitive to life. Yes, I'm being dramatic, but I hope that you get the point.

We have certain triggers for a reason, and mostly that reason is survival. When it becomes a problem is when our environment starts to short circuit those triggers. And no amount of willpower is going to help. Maybe for a minute, or a day, but eventually you are going to bounce back like a giant bungee cord and thwap yourself in the face with three times the urge to nosh.

So what is going on when you're stuck at home in the middle of a pandemic with nothing but your fridge to entertain you? Your body tells you that your brain decided that you're hungry and it convinces the rest of you using a sneaky combination of hormones and emotions to mimic actual hunger signals. If this goes ignored long enough then you end up going beyond actual hunger and right into loss of control binge mode.

So what is a girl (or guy) to do? Learn your HQ.

Your what now? HQ is your hunger quotient. It is a measure of how hungry you are on a scale of 0 to 10. There are a bunch of ways to look at HQ but I like to place "famished" at 0 and "stuffed" at 10. Remember a time when you were so hungry you would have eaten anything? Even Kale or liver or whatever horrible thing your parents tried to pry into your diet at nine years old? Hungry enough that the "what" isn't even important- just eating fast and furiously. That is 0. Now the other end is Thanksgiving afternoon that one time you had to unbutton your pants and lie down to keep from revisiting Aunt Barbs famous apple pie a la mode. So stuffed that you vow never to eat again- or 10.

You want to learn to hang between 4 and 6 on that HQ- always waffling between not quite too hungry and not really full.

It takes time and practice, but you can train yourself. Every time you thing about eating or sit down to eat just assess your HQ. Then check in while you are eating or if that goes by to fast as soon as you were done. Then write it down. Always write it down. The act of writing helps to create habits. It makes abstract thought concrete realities.

Then repeat as often as you can. Eventually, you will start to be able to make portion decisions based on your HQ, you can plan out your day with your HQ, you won't need to diet and you will have outsmarted your mindless eating.

If you are always aiming for between 4 and 6 HQ then you will possibly identify the foods that get you 2 hours, what lasts for 6, and how much of that one thing puts you just over 6 to 7. You can learn how to eat mindfully.

Here's an example. I always had a snack after school. My stay-at-home-mom just thought that we would come through the door starving after school, plus she had a complicated relationship with food herself. So she would spent the morning preparing tasty treats, usually in the form of baked goods, and then sever them up nice and warm (or cold depending on the weather) and spend 20 minutes just listening to my day. I come from a large family, and my dad was rarely home so life was chaos- these 20 minutes were likely to be the only time I got with my mother every day, so over time I associated those baked goods with attention and positive memories. It's no wonder that as an adult any time I was feeling a little down or in need of some TLC I found it in a fresh baked chocolate chip cookie.

Over time and a lot of student loans for a degree in nutrition later I learned to use HQ and what I knew about types of foods- healthy fats can improve moods, carbs encourage serotonin (a feel good hormone), and protein makes you feel satisfied and full after eating. I used that info to make better choices. A slice of toast with peanut butter for comfort- warm, healthy fats, and protein. Hanger can be treated with a hard boiled egg and an apple. And the 3:00 slump when I just know that I can't make it until bedtime can usually be cured with a glass of water or a cup of herbal tea.

So instead of the frame of mind that this is only temporary, flip the script and use this time to learn your triggers so that when you go back out in the world you can show off your new HQ knowledge- your friends will be impressed. You can Instagram it. #HQdoesntmeanhangerqueen

Learning HQ and what to do about it is a process. Are you ready to focus on your future wellness? Do you have the time?

It just so happens that I have decided to open up a few more spots in my schedule for individual counseling, but they fill fast so schedule your consult before they are gone.


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