Sophia Kamveris, MS, RDN
What Drives You to Eat?
As I mentioned in a previous post, sometimes the best insight is gotten from personal experiences, so I am sharing one from another patient of mine. Some background info—this gentleman is an IT guy. Why is that important to know? Because I believe how our brains work makes a difference on how we approach things in life, including how we eat. I had another patient who was an accountant that created elaborate spreadsheets of what he ate. Same scenario. Both had very pragmatic approaches about evaluating their eating behaviors.
I’m going to get a little science-y here for a few moments, so bear with me. Let’s briefly look at Darwin’s theory of evolution. In 1859, Charles Darwin's book, “On the Origin of Species” maintained that individuals have [inherited] traits that enable them to adapt to their environments, which enhances their ability to compete, survive, and reproduce. Individuals that have less adaptive traits will be less successful to survive. Hence, the ones that are best adjusted to their environment will be rewarded for their “survival of the fittest” skills.
Obviously, Darwinian theory pre-dates today’s science and our understanding of genes and heredity. Now, we know that genes encode different biological or behavioral traits; and that organisms change over time as a result of changes in heritable physical or behavioral traits. But over time, what we do with these traits still affects our ability to survive.
So, where am I going with all of this? I believe the foundation of “why we eat” is ultimately entrenched in the science of biology and evolution—our primordial instinct is to “eat to live.” It’s how our ancestors survived before there were 711’s on every street corner. When there was no accessibility to food for days at a time, our bodies naturally found a way to survive. It’s amazing that our body’s organs work independently of one another, yet support each other when called upon. Simply put, our bodies have back up systems in place so Plan B can kick in when needed. Another example of biological synchronicity is the feeling of hunger. Our natural instinct is to listen to our internal cues to let us know that it’s time to eat. The hormone, ghrelin, sets off hunger and the hormone, leptin, tells us when we are full and that it’s time to stop eating.
Unfortunately, I believe Mother Nature’s cues to eat have been disturbed by our environment, and that we have lost our listening skills. How we view food has changed through the millions of years we have been on Earth. External cues are interfering with our internal ones. In my patient’s case, he surmised the following: I think of my body as my buddy - my partner in crime - my partner in life. My buddy always talks to me, but I am not really listening. When I hear lifestyle change, I shut down, I am scared of this idea of giving-up for good the pleasure of life, the festive meals with my friends, eating great food and drinking great wines for hours, well into the late evening hours. A lifestyle change was always perceived as a punishment, a resignation, a form of death in the living state.”
This type of ill-thinking never existed before. Our ancestors used food to fuel their bodies but today, food has turned into an outlet associated with a multitude of feelings—happiness, sadness, comfort, and stress to name a few. The practice of mindfulness is based on Zen Buddhism and centers on developing a personal awareness of what drives you to eat whether it be physical cues, negative feelings, painful memories, or on-going stress. These situations can often lead to unhealthy eating behaviors.
Mindful eating encourages us to gain awareness of our eating experiences. Working with a therapist or a dietitian that specializes in mindfulness techniques is the first step in retraining eating behaviors. In time, you will achieve a healthier relationship with food but more importantly, you will achieve some peace of mind that you can trust your own decisions moving forward to a healthier you!
In good health,