Intuitive Eating: WHY We Eat

 EDIT™ Worksheets | Be True Your Self
Intuitive Eating #1 | The Three Reasons WHY We Eat

I’m feeling low on energy, and need a snack…
I just finished dinner, and want something sweet…
I’ve just had a stressful day, and want my favorite comfort food…

Can you relate to eating for these three different reasons? The first is the body’s PHYSICAL NEED for food – or, HUNGER. The second is a PHYSICAL DESIRE for specific foods although not necessarily hungry, for example, dessert – also called APPETITE. The third is an EMOTIONAL DESIRE for specific foods, as a means of self-soothing – referred to as COMFORT. It’s normal to eat for all three of these reasons – and eating disorders reflect being out of balance with why we eat. Eating disorder recovery is about restoring this balance, through Intuitive Eating.

As a little more background information for you as an EDIT™ practitioner – I developed the terminology for these three reasons why people eat as an outcome of my own research. I observed the eating patterns of people who reported never having had an eating disorder, and noted that the reasons people ate fell into three main categories. My original terms were “Physical Need,” “Physical Desire,” and “Emotional Desire” – which I have since simplified as “Hunger,” “Appetite,” and “Comfort.”

On a typical day, people without eating disorders reported eating for the three different reasons with these percentages: Hunger (75-100%), Appetite (0-25%), Comfort (0-10%). What this means is that some days, a person might eat in this distribution: Hunger (75%), Appetite (15%), Comfort (10%). Another day, perhaps their proportions may be: Hunger (90%), Appetite (10%), Comfort (0%). Occasionally, people without eating disorders reported: Hunger (100%), Appetite (0%), Comfort (0%). However, most often, people without eating disorders ate with some percentage for all three reasons.

When I ask people with eating disorders the reasons why they eat, I often find different ranges for different types of eating disorders. For example, people with Anorexia typically report something like: Hunger (100%), Appetite (0%), Comfort (0%). However, many anorexics resist eating even if they do feel hungry, and only eat if they feel extreme hunger. In contrast, people with Bulimia or Binge Eating Disorder typically report something like: Hunger (0%), Appetite (25%), Comfort (75%). These individuals may actually eat some of the time because they are hungry – but to them it might seem like they are eating because they “want to” but don’t really “need to.” These individuals especially identify with eating for comfort, noting that they use food as a means of coping with intense emotions. People who identify themselves as having a Food Addiction report a slightly different percentage, usually something like: Hunger (0%), Appetite (75%), Comfort (25%). These individuals tend to relate to the concept that they are drawn to the taste of food and “love to eat,” but are less aware of using food as a means of emotional coping.

When you use this worksheet with your clients, begin by explaining the three reasons why people eat. Next, ask your client why they tend to eat on a typical day, so you can get a sense of their percentages for each of the three reasons. Ask your client why they think they “should” eat – any they will probably say something like, “I should only eat when I’m hungry” – which is what many weight loss programs advocate. Emphasize that it’s OK to eat for all three reasons, and then encourage your client to being their journey of Intuitive Eating by simply noticing their current eating patterns. Encourage them to gently ask, “Why am I about to eat right now?” Non-judgmental awareness is the first step in eating disorder recovery!

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