Nourish and Nurture

Head and Heart Hunger

November 23, 2023 Miriam Hatoum
Nourish and Nurture
Head and Heart Hunger
Show Notes Transcript

Episode 77 - Head and Heart Hunger

We all have triggers, habits and emotional connections with food. When we are "hungry" but not really physically hungry we know it as head hunger, heart hunger or, which covers both, emotional hunger.

In this episode I talk about disassembling triggers and habits and give you examples of my own efforts that I have shared with you in past episodes. I have found that they speak to many of you so share them again here.

 It is important to understand Triggers, Habits and Emotional Connections so that you can work on disassembling them all. It starts with understanding what they are.

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Episode #: 77.  Head and Heart Hunger

 You’re Listening to the Keto and Low Carb Success podcast, Episode #77, Head and Heart Hunger.

 Introduction

 Did you know that you don't have to spend money on a diet program or weigh, measure and track your food? What if you could learn to have success by following an easy roadmap that takes you on adventures from learning how to change your mindset so that you can believe in yourself, to learning about what foods work best in your body and why? Join me, Miriam Hatoum, health coach, course creator and author of Conquer Cravings with Keto, as I give you actionable coaching advice that is sure to empower you so that you will finally find peace with food and learn to trust your body’s signals. You’ve got this, girl! 

 Be sure to go to miriamhatoum.com/resources to get all the free guides to help you along the way. I am in your shoes, my friends, and I wrote these guides for both of us. The link is in the show notes and transcripts.

 Oh, and before we start, I want to let you know that the primary purpose of this podcast and the course is to educate and does not constitute medical advice or service, and I’m keeping up with the science as fast as I can so I can share with you the latest breaking research in this area to help you achieve your dreams!

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We all have triggers, habits and emotional connections with food. When we are "hungry" but not really physically hungry we know it as head hunger, heart hunger or, which covers both, emotional hunger.

In this episode I talk about disassembling triggers and habits and give you examples of my own efforts that I have shared with you in past episodes. I have found that they speak to many of you so share them again here.

 It is important to understand Triggers, Habits and Emotional Connections so that you can work on disassembling them all. It starts with understanding what they are.

Triggers

A trigger could be a food itself. A trigger food is a specific food that sets off a course of. overeating where control is lost. The most common trigger foods are calorie-dense, highly palatable foods that are often combinations of sugar and fat (e.g. ice cream, cookies) or fat and salt (e.g. nuts, potato chips, French fries).

A trigger could be a behavior. It could be something as "innocent" as walking past the bakery, catching a whiff of freshly baked bread and wanting to have it whether we are hungry or not. In this case, the food itself was the trigger – in that you smelled the bread so wanted it. But the trigger can also be the behavior of walking through or by a bakery. 

A trigger could involve deeper layers, such as always wanting to eat after a phone call or an argument with someone.

Here was my example of disassembling a trigger:

  • I found that when I went into a grocery store that has the bakery right at the front, my brain was totally scrambled.
  • More OFTEN than not. I would get something from the bakery no matter how "good" I was being. 
  • Worse, I would resist that but then binge later - often not even knowing why I was bingeing. 
  • Self-sabotage at its best.
  • I eventually went in a different entrance.
    • As a matter of fact, if I remember correctly, I came in through the exit even if it meant that I had to wait for someone to leave the store so that the automatic doors would open. 
  • Now I no longer go into that store
    • If I need something on special that only that store has, I send my husband or pay a few more cents somewhere else.
  • My only way through this head hunger was to find my way out of it by not exposing myself to the trigger that caused it.

Habits

Habits can also be along the same spectrum such as always having popcorn at the movies or wanting to avoid a dreaded activity and you have the habit of eating so that it sidetracks you. 

Remember, habits are not always consciously motivated.

  • Sometimes they are controlled by our "lizard brain" meaning that we put absolutely no conscious thought into our actions at all.
  • We just do something and either don't realize we are doing it, or wonder why, afterwards, why we did.
  • You are almost mystified why you ate something. 
  • You can work so hard to change a response to a trigger or change a habit all together, but once in a while your reaction will pop up to the surface. Don’t beat yourself up over it. It happens. You’re human. The trick is to at least cultivate an awareness about these things.

You might be in the habit of always stopping in for fast food along a certain route. Is it a habit or is seeing the golden arches a trigger?  You might still be responsive to the trigger of seeing the golden arches so you pull in, but you can order a diet soda or coffee instead of a whole meal. So, you have sort of broken the "usual" habit while still responding to the trigger.

A habit that I recently disassembled is nighttime eating.

  • I am not a person who fasts easily, but I was willing to try a 12:12 fast just to break my habit of nighttime eating.
  •  12:12 stands for fasting 12 hours followed by a 12-hour eating "window." 
  • This does not mean I eat for 12 hours but if I take my last bite at 7PM, then I don't have anything to eat until 7AM the next day.
  • Baby steps, my friend. I don't go near the kitchen after dinner.
  • I make 2-3 tall drinks with crushed ice, putting two of them in thermoses so that I have no reason to go into the kitchen for anything. 
  • My battle against that evening head hunger was not easy, but I have succeeded.

What about emotional connections to food?

You might have a simple emotional connection to a specific food.

  • This can be what happens with a comfort food.
  • It is enjoyable to eat, and it might make you happy as it brings back fond memories of some person or some event.
  • It also might not be your best food choice in the moment.

You might have a deeper emotional connection to food.

  • These are entwined with triggers and habits.
  • This is when you turn to food when you are anxious, bored, angry, unhappy, frustrated, depressed, etc.
  • The circumstance itself might be a trigger or using food as avoidance and soothing might be your habit.
  • Needing to eat for this avoidance or soothing is called head hunger.

The connection might even be deeper.

  • Perhaps you grew up with abuse or no friends, for instance.
  • Food became your only source of comfort, love or entertainment.
  • Food might have been your only friend.
  • Food might have been the only source of love and caring from a parent.
  • Food could have represented significant happiness in your life, such as having attention and being loved at your birthday parties, or enjoying friends and family at holidays.
  • This is where your triggers and habits might have found fertile soil.
  • This is also head hunger, but when it is deeper like this, we call it heart hunger.

So, anything can be on this spectrum, from the innocent "smell bread, want bread" trigger to the not so innocent "food is the only thing I can count on."

I am not here to dissect what is going on with that, and always encourage my clients and students to seek more professional help than what I am qualified to give them.

But, it is important to know that once you have made these associations for years, you forge neural pathways in your brain. I stress with my clients over and over again, they are not broken. In fact, everything is working brilliantly. (Please see the bonus guide for this episode, "The Brilliance of Chocolate Cake" to learn more of about this.)

How can YOU disassemble a trigger?

  • If every time you finish a meeting with your boss (which usually doesn't go well) you head straight for the vending machine.

Do this instead:

  •  Find a quiet place to close your eyes and breathe slowly for 2 or 3 minutes (even if you have to head straight to the ladies room to do it). 
  • THEN go to the vending machine if you still feel you must. 
  • Then eat half of whatever treat you bought. 
  • Breathe another 2 or 3 minutes. 
  • Don't stew and rehash the meeting. 
  • Just listen to your breath.
  • Your brain cannot do two things at once
  • Just listen to your breath and count. 
  • Then if you must, eat the other half of your treat.
  • Over time you might have the same trigger but your response to it will change.

Do this tiny-step method whenever you realize you are reaching for food in response to something that has happened to you and not because you are hungry.

How can YOU disassemble a habit?

Disassembling a habit works much the same way. Let's go back to the golden arches example.

  • You can absolutely change your foods order to something better for you than what you usually get.
  • You can even drive by and tell yourself "not today" but - and I speak wholly from personal experience here - that tends to come out sideways.
  • That means that you might binge later (not even knowing why) or order more the next time you stop because, after all, you were "good" the other day.
  • How you disassemble this particular habit is to go down a different street. "Out of sight, out of mind" is really true.
  • In a later episode I will explore habits more deeply, but for now, a good place to start is to work on replacing the habit. With the golden arches habit this could be replacing your route with one that does not go by a trigger location, or it could be still going into the drive-thru but getting something less damaging such as a beverage.

How can you disassemble a connection? 

Disassembling a connection may be a little harder than disassembling triggers and habits.

  • Your first step is awareness, which is really the hardest part.
  • When you say to someone "I don't want to talk about it" then BINGO.
  • That's exactly what you need to face and talk about.
  • Sometimes you might need professional help to unearth the connections because you aren't even aware they are there.
  • You might need help to find out why you have the connections. 

Sometimes journaling will do that for you but then you might need professional help to face the core issues and to help you dig at, and expose those roots. (Please visit my blog on Emotional Eaters, where you will see reference to therapy. The link is in the show notes and transcript.)

Just as with triggers and habits, connections can be on a spectrum as well. Some issues may require professional help, but sometimes it is just a "lightbulb moment."

An example might be:

  • "Oh, I never realized that when I am craving ice cream it always happens when I'm anxious.
  • Next time I am craving ice cream I will see if I really want it."

I know that is an oversimplification, but not everything is deep and dark and shrouded in sadness and abuse.

Sometimes it is just that a certain food might soothe you and once you are aware of it you can work to break that connection.

Autobiography in Five Chapters by Portia Nelson

I think this might be the single most important thing that you will ever read that will help you see my point about how to disassemble triggers and habits. I would even suggest that you print this out and put it in a frame in your kitchen.

I

I walk down the street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk I fall in.

I am lost... I am hopeless.

It isn't my fault.

It takes forever to find a way out.

II

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I pretend I don't see it.

I fall in again.

I can't believe I'm in the same place.

But it isn't my fault.

It still takes a long time to get out.

III

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I see it is there.

I still fall in...it's a habit

My eyes are open; I know where I am; It is my fault.

I get out immediately.

IV

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I walk around it.

V 

I walk down another street.

What mistakes do we make and why?

·       The biggest mistake that we make is not learning about, and acknowledging, our physical hunger. If you do not know what physical hunger feels like in your body, how will you know if the hunger is not physical?

·       Another mistake is that we tend to be reactionary. This could mean something as simple as “See cookie, want cookie, eat cookie.” Oftentimes it is no more than that, but we don’t realize the impulse there. We don’t parse it out and take the time to ask ourselves, first, do we really want the cookie (okay we want it but is it just a reaction to seeing it?). Second, are we even physically hungry? 

·       Sometimes the reaction is deeper – we run to food for distraction. Are we lonely and don’t want to think about it? Are we tired and don’t want to rest? Are we angry and don’t want to process that? Are bored and want to do something? Whatever the reason we are running to the food, it is all in our heads and our hearts. Go back to Episode 19, and other episodes where I talk about mindfulness, and see how to put a pause between the reaching for the food and the eating of the food. If you have not gone beyond just thinking about the food, put the pause there. 

The cost of not putting in a pause.

·       The cost of not putting in that pause is that you will never give yourself the opportunity to break the cycle of your head hunger, heart hunger and habit hunger. Honestly, if you could just do that, it would eliminate so much overeating and you would automatically start to release your extra weight without being on the search for the latest and greatest diet program promises. 

·       The cost of not putting in that pause means that you will never find peace with food, which is what I think most of us want. Not even weight loss and not even better health. We just want peace.

Here is the NEW way to handle triggers, habits, urges, cravings and emotional connections. 

·       The very first thing I want you to do is to not berate yourself the next time this happens. It is normal. It is to be expected. The cravings and urges will hardly ever disappear. The triggers will always be there. Connections, habits and triggers will always be with you in your heart and your head. 

·       The moment you notice any head, habit or heart hunger, STOP – even mid-bite, even as your hand is going into the chip bag for the third time. Say to yourself, “Oh.” Take a breath, put the food down if you are holding it, and say, “Good job. I noticed it.”

·       Awareness is the VERY first step. If you catch yourself before you have started eating, set a timer for even just 5 minutes. Breathe. Walk away from the food situation if you can.

·       If the pull is too strong or the food is already gone, I want to you to say, “Good job. I noticed it.”

·       That’s all. Take away the berating, the self-hate, the chiding or the despair. It’s only food, my friend. 

·       I have a picture of myself from over 30 years ago when my life was overwhelming – not necessarily sad – but it was a time in my life when my selfcare was at a minimum and I was frantically trying to diet but instead was gaining weight. I keep that picture on my bureau. I look at it often and say, “Miriam, thank you. It could have been drugs or alcohol or abusing my children. It was only food. Thank you. I love you.”

THIS WEEK’S ACTIONABLE COACHING ADVICE

·       Download the Brilliance of Chocolate Cake booklet. The link is at miriamhatoum.com/resources.

·       Do the “Why I Want Sugar” worksheet. 

·       Reflect on your answers to these questions:

·       What are three things you have noticed for yourself about the physical pull of foods with sugar?

·       What are some of your habits paired with eating when you are not hungry, sweets in particular?

·       What are three things you have noticed about yourself when you turn to food as an emotional component?

·       Read through the rest of the booklet very carefully, and if you keep a journal, write about how you are not stuck, and that you just have not yet broken the cycle of the feel-good chemicals in your brain.

·       Go to the transcript and read (or listen again) to Autobiography in Five Chapters by Portia Nelson. Journal (or think) about what lesson you can take from this in your own life.

Next week’s episode

Next week I will explore urges and cravings. By now, I am sure most of you have heard my PEEPS story, but if you haven’t, be sure not to skip ahead those first 30 seconds! It sets the stage for explaining the difference between urges and cravings! And remember that plate of Weight Watcher’s liver and onions I talked about in the finding satisfaction episode? Well I do like chopped liver, so there’s a story about that too! As a matter of fact, there is a recipe for it at miriamhatoum.com/blog!

If you are enjoying this podcast, I do have a favor to ask of you. Please subscribe to this podcast and leave a review wherever you listen to your podcast. It helps other people find it by bringing it up in the various directories. Also, don’t be a stranger. Like or join my Facebook page, Breaking Free From Diet Prison, and let me know if there is anything you would like to hear on the show, and let me know you are a podcast listener. 

Please share the podcast with your friends, let them know we on an Intuitive Eating journey, and invite them to tune in with you and learn how to become free from diet prison.

Until then, go live free from diet worry — I’ll see you back here next time.
 Get all my free guides
Take a look at this great course
Join me on Facebook
Follow me on Instagram
Check out Pinterest
And don't forget my book!