Overcoming Food Cues
Do you only eat when you are hungry? Or do you find yourself reaching for a snack when you aren’t hungry at all? Food cues, stimuli that trigger a food-related response, can come in many forms and can cause you to eat when you aren’t hungry. For instance, a food cue might come in the form of a fast-food commercial, the smell of a sweet dessert baking, or seeing junk food when you’re at the shops. Some individuals may even be triggered by emotions. Because food cues can be associated with mindless eating and weight gain, it’s important to learn how to pay attention to hunger cues rather than food cues.
Four Types of Food Cues
Food cues can be broken down into four categories: visual cues, auditory cues, olfactory cues, and mental cues.
Visual cues are images of food that may cause you to have a food-related response. Whether this is a commercial, a magazine ad, a cooking show, seeing a family member’s dinner, or spotting your favorite snack on the shelf, visual cues may cause you to crave the food you are being exposed to.
Auditory cues are food-related sounds. This may be the sound of silverware clinking against a plate, coffee brewing, or popcorn popping.
Olfactory food cues target your sense of smell. When you smell food cooking, you may be triggered to grab a plate even when you aren’t truly hungry.
Mental food cues are tied to your emotions. Maybe you reach for your comfort food go-to when you’re feeling sad, angry, or bored.
It is nearly impossible to avoid food cues, so trying to avoid them isn’t the way to overcome them. The key to overcoming food cues is to understand them and pinpoint which cues are your primary triggers. Start by going through all the potential visual, auditory, and olfactory cues you are exposed to regularly. Which ones cause you to eat or to crave something you wouldn’t otherwise eat? Which emotions make you grab a candy bar, a bag of chips, or a sugary drink?
Overcoming Food Cues
Aside from mental triggers, food cues are external. That means that, while you likely cannot avoid them, you can ignore them. When you are triggered by an external food cue, listen to your internal cues. Outside factors may be telling you to grab a burger from the newest joint in town or to snack on some chips while you watch television, but what is your body telling you? Is your stomach grumbling? Do you have hunger pains? Think about the cues your body gives you when it’s time to eat or when you’re overdue for a meal. If you aren’t feeling any of those internal cues, then you shouldn’t reach for those foods. Taking a moment to think about internal cues gives your body time to work through the craving and let it pass. You can also distract yourself with an activity or drink some water.
You can learn more about mindful eating here.