I remember when I was little, somewhere around middle school age, one of my favorite things on weekends was to wake up early, grab a bag of cookies and a cup of hot tea and read in bed while savoring the treats. I don’t particularly remember being hungry, the cookies just tasted so good, and it felt so fun to be the only one awake, in my toasty bed, fully immersed in my book. I don’t remember having breakfast afterwards, that probably was breakfast. My point is – we don’t always eat when we are hungry. And not all our meals will be perfectly balanced… always! Sometimes I eat because the food in front of me looks good, or when I go to my daughter’s school event at an odd hour, or when I’m in Paris (and that is not a usual thing, trust me!) – I feel like trying everything I see, food there is just so amazing! So, I will sometimes eat from a place of curiosity. Or I’ll eat cuz I’m bored (now that I’m touch with my body and mind, I know my boredom driven non-hunger cravings, and whenever I feel like boredom is trying to convince me to eat – I get myself busy doing something). But that’s fine, we will always have occasions where non-hunger eating is pretty much inevitable, and it won’t do us any favor if we criticize ourselves for the “gluttony” – we are humans and are subject to normal, human behaviour.
The diet culture tells us that eating when we are not hungry leads to weight gain. We are told that when we consume energy in a fed state, aka when not hungry, it has nowhere to go but into our fat cells. While that is correct, it is not necessarily always true. To be able to attest to that, one has to consider all the context of that eating. For instance, we already know that our bodies are smart at regulating our energy homeostasis, or balance. So, what it does next, in reaction to the positive energy balance (extra calories) – the negative feedback loop kicks in and our hunger hormones, neuro and gut peptides are downregulated, causing us to either eat again much later, when the energy balance is corrected, or eat less at the next meal or several. Our bodies are never in a static state, they are dynamic, undergoing constant change, metabolic adaptations, up- and downregulations in different processes. Fat cells give out fat molecules, upon request, and take them in upon availability. At the end of the day the body is trying to protect its set point – the weight at which it is most comfortable and your health is optimal.
The way to think of your set point – it is your body’s size without trying to forcefully manipulate it through restrictive eating or overexercising. And while set point seems like a set number (of pounds) – it is still not as static as one may think. Some argue that it has a range of anywhere between 10 to 20 pounds. The body is pretty amazing at pulling off such a trick and feeling completely normal doing it! That’s because through evolution such weight fluctuations were advantageous and protected against dying to famine. Those who were able to gain weight more efficiently were guaranteed gutting it out through long periods of scarce food availability. Woo hoo, survival of the fittest!
On a final note, while the food tastes better when you are genuinely hungry, occasional non-hunger eating isn’t deadly to your physique and won’t threaten your waist provided that you generally listen to your body cues and treat it with respect and care.