Listen to your body, not to advertising

Here’s nothing new; marketers exist to make money. Sure, advertising thrives on telling the consumer what they need and want by appealing to human values. Marketing and psychology partner to mine the caves of human thought and behaviour.

But are they really listening to our needs?

Marketing 101 covers in some fashion Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, most often represented as a pyramid of basic human psychological and developmental requirements. The greatest behavior motivators line the bottom of the pyramid–physiological and safety needs–whereas higher-up needs such as love/belonging, esteem and self-actualization inhabit the smaller middle and top of the pyramid.

All but the very top–self-actualization–comprise our primal needs. Advertisers target those, our highest needs: safety, comfort, and ego. So, when health food manufacturers (yes even “healthy eaters can be misled) roll out full page ads in your yoga magazine about the pesticides and preservatives in your other-than-their-product foods, they know they’ll hit the consuming brain’s safety centre. And that goes for most services and products; the message cautions safety or some other basic need.

That’s also why you can find a Starbuck’s in nearly every big city. Branding. The brand you belong to brings a tiny mental smile of recognition, wherever you are. It’s hip, trendy and standardized. And donates to good causes. You know you’re okay–you’re respected–if you and others just like you patronize a conscientious company like Starbuck’s. And that’s the trick.

Cheap eats on the run fatten industry and advertising – and probably you

But standardization isn’t just for branding. Standardizing foods increases ease, efficiency, name-recognition and profit for food production. We buy what satisfies, and profiteering manufacturers/marketers count on that. That’s why we get countless choices with too much of these ingredients: sugar, salt and fat in their many chemical substitutions and names. They’re cheap, available and pleasurable. Like crack. In fact, those ingredients target the same pleasure points in your brain.

So how do you know when you’re being marketed to and when you should really heed the message?

Especially since so much of our behavior is unconscious, mindless really, about what drives us. Often we’re downright self-deluded, feeding ourselves mistruths to satisfy some need or avoid some fear. And if it’s not us lying to ourselves, then it’s marketing companies and manufacturers doing the lying.

As to the former, well, we can become more mindful. To change behaviours, we first need to be aware of them. Perhaps we should remember from psychology how we learn behaviors. Psychologists tell us we learn by conditioning, using the experience to tell us what pays off and what doesn’t, or by modeling others. So if a cookie made your skinned knees feel better in childhood, chances are the cookie or some other sugary treat soothes your emotional and physical wounds in adulthood. Too often we eat for reasons other than hunger.

And since it’s most advantageous for profit-motivated industrialized food manufacturers to pump out food cheaply and for advertisers to exploit our vulnerabilities, our basic needs and comfort, we’re bombarded with too many unhealthy foods marketed to fulfill emotional needs more than nutritional.

To be forewarned is to be forearmed

Yes, knowledge about how and why we do what we do is important. It’s also important to be aware of marketing strategies, so we don’t fall victim to the needs of advertising and industry over our own. But ultimately, the secret to healthier eating lies inside us – in our bodies.

It’s been called mindful eating or intuitive eating, and some bicker over the differences or steps to achieving either or both. But what’s more important than labels is action. Do two things for healthier eating: stop and listen.

Mindfulness boils down to paying attention–real attention. When your busy life forces you to adopt habits that keep you dashing–rushing out the door to work or feeding the kids dinner before driving them to soccer practice–you may have overlooked some basics. Like listening to your body’s signals.

When you stop and listen to your body’s cues, you know what to feed it for optimal nutrition and energy, short-circuiting the emotional eating-go-round. When you hear your body’s messages, you serve yourself, not others.

For example, no one tells you when it’s time to sleep. You know by your sinking, gravelly eyes, your sluggish, slow body, and your fuzzy mind. Your body tells you to sleep–or else. No marketing team holds enough sway to convince you not to. The same could be true of eating if only you climb off the mindless circuit of daily to-do’s and shift perspective.

A good place to start? Questions

Attuned eating demands consistent curiosity. Consider asking yourself these 5 questions each time you reach for something to eat:

  1. How does my body feel right now–cold or hot, full or empty, bloated or grumbling?

  2. Am I hungry? (Have I eaten today, and if so, when and what?)

  3. Which emotions am I feeling as I prepare to eat–stressed, happy, depressed?

  4. What am I eating and how much?

  5. How does my food look, feel and taste?

Non-judgmental questioning causes you to pause and notice a largely unconscious but critical action–fueling your body. Inquiring about what and why you’re eating may eventually move you to observe how your body feels after eating certain foods–like thirst-producing salt or crash-and-burn sugar.

We know these common biological reactions to poor ingredients–but do we actually notice ourselves feeling them?

Common sense, tradition, and observation teach us the basics: eat your fruits, veggies, legumes and whole grains for top nutrition. Also, limit your sugar, salt, fats, and refined carbs intake–and eat at home. Preparing meals at home promotes consciousness too. From selecting ingredients at the store; to sensually enjoying colours, textures, and aromas; to flowing in the meditative movement of chopping, slicing, and grilling; cooking absorbs us in thoughtful, loving creation.

Yes, a little bit of consciousness and self-love goes a long way. When we recognize our patterns, consider our own needs over others, and listen to our bodies, we eat to nourish, love and honour ourselves. Listen to your body’s sound advice. It knows your needs.

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