Eating is a vital necessity, but in our daily life, we eat for many other reasons that have nothing to do with guaranteeing our survival. We need to eat to get the energy we need to live: to move, to breathe, to build and maintain our organs … Everything is related to food intake, and hunger appears so that we comply with it and avoid a deficit of energy that endangers our survival.
But then, why do we sometimes have an appetite shortly after we have eaten? O Why are we able to snack twice in the afternoon if we are watching TV and do not eat anything if we go for a walk at the same time? Some of these behaviors indicate that we are eating without hunger; although that does not mean that we do not feel like eating, sometimes even irresistible.
Eat without hunger, what happens to us?
Ingestion behavior is regulated by two mechanisms, one that motivates us to eat and another that inhibits food intake. These are processes that depend largely on the level of short-term blood glucose and adipose tissue on the length, but also influence other external factors as we will see below.
In the signs of hunger and satiety are involved, in broad strokes, brain mechanisms (brainstem, hypothalamus) and hormones such as ghrelin, which increases with fasting or leptin that inhibits food intake and increases metabolism. The stomach, intestine or liver contain receptors that detect the presence or absence of nutrients, but beyond the physiology of eating behavior, which is quite complex, an odor, an attractive photo, a memory or a moment of nerves, Can trigger the feeling of appetite.
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Bear in mind that starvation poses a greater threat to survival than overeating, and the mechanisms for detecting what we need to eat are far more efficient than those responsible for avoiding overfeeding.
Factors that encourage us to eat
The writer Mark Twain said that man is the only animal that eats without hunger and drinks without being thirsty. Without going into whether or not we have exclusive, these are some factors that stimulate our appetite, even with a full stomach:
- Characteristics of foods: Those that have a lot of sugar added or are very salty we are most desirable because we associate their flavor with a greater amount of nutrients. It is difficult for us to eat only a potato chip or a chocolate chip cookie, and this is also due to its high palatability, that is, how pleasant we are for the palate, sight, and smell.
- Too much variety to choose: If we have many options we tend to want to try a little bit of everything and it will be more difficult to control us than if we limit ourselves to a single plate or two plates.
- Social and cultural factors: Celebrating a party, being surrounded by family, sharing an important moment like a wedding or Christmas day are moments that can make us overeat without even realizing it. Habits like having a fixed time to eat, snack or snack something whenever we have visitors, we are encouraged to eat for themselves.
- Not getting enough sleep: The lack of sleep causes changes in hormones that regulate appetite and makes us hungrier and we decant for more caloric foods.
- Confusing thirst with hunger: It is not always easy to distinguish when our body requires hydration or food, so we sometimes relieve thirst or dry mouth feeling with food instead of with water.
- Boredom: In a society always in motion to be doing nothing can become a heroic act. Sometimes we simply eat to avoid that feeling of emptiness, of having nothing in the hands or not being occupied in any task.
The reward circuits
Nowadays we have at our disposal multitude of foods manufactured to be pleasing to the palate. Eating gives us an intense pleasure and this stimulates our reward mechanisms, mediated by the hypothalamus, in a similar way as some addictions can.
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This reward circuit of the brain is activated when we anticipate that we will eat, reinforcing our behaviors and creating habits, which once acquired are difficult to abandon. Before this type of food, we put in “automatic” mode losing count of the total intake. Distractions such as watching TV or working while eating make us still act more unconsciously, aggravating the problem.
Effects of stress or anxiety on eating
When the day becomes uphill, and we feel irritated and exhausted by stress, it is easy to fall into the temptation to give us a “prize”, which often consists of foods high in calories, rich in saturated fats and sugars.
In prolonged stress situations the hormone ghrelin is altered, increasing our appetite. On the other hand, eating can end up being a way to placate situations of nerves, anxiety or anguish, with which to evade the state in which we find ourselves. So we go from eating to having anxiety to anxiety about eating, using food as a sedative and losing control of your intake.
What can we do?
A first step, if we cannot avoid eating, is to fill our pantry and our refrigerator with healthy and satisfying food (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes …), which do not have a great caloric intake. The light pecks and healthy not only prevent us fat but also help to stop feeling constantly tempted by the food. It’s not about eating less, but about eating better.
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Recovering natural flavors, such as the sweetness of fruits, will make our palate cease to be over stimulated by artificial flavors, and we will find it easier to differentiate when we are experiencing real hunger or emotional hunger. Eat consciously, enjoying every bite, avoiding outside distractions and wondering before we begin “Why do I want to eat now? “ It helps us to learn to listen and to distinguish if we are hungry, anxious or bored.
As we have said, sleeping well is also important, as well as practicing moderate exercise and look for other alternatives to foods that also give us satisfaction, such as reading or taking a walk. When emotional stress leads to overweight it is advisable to have the help of specialists, such as psychologists or nutritionists, who will guide us in the guidelines to follow to modify our behavior and how to feed us properly.