Mindful Eating Series: Is This Real Stomach Hunger?

By Lisa Christie on 06/04/2012
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Today is the fourth post in our series on mindful eating and the seven hungers, as identified by Jan Chozen Bays.

Eye hunger, nose hunger, mouth hunger, stomach hunger, cellular hunger, mind hunger and heart hunger — each of these hungers provide a unique lens through which to investigate your relationship to food and the body.

By noticing your eating through the lens of mindfulness, there is much to discover. – Barbara Meyer, PhD, Green Mountain at Fox Run Program Director

To nourish our whole selves, feeding all of the seven hungers is important.  However, stomach hunger is the one we most identify with our true physical need for food. We can learn to identify what physical hunger feels like, discern levels of hunger, as well as what, and how much food our bodies may need to be satisfied.  From my experience, satisfaction is more of a challenge to determine than hunger. Still, sensing for hunger is where we begin, because if we’re not hungry when we begin eating, it’s difficult to know when we’ve had enough.

How we experience the sensation of hunger varies among individuals — it can be a feeling of emptiness, a growling, or a rumbling in the stomach, although many are not aware of their bodily signals for hunger at all. Difficulty in communicating with our bodies is exacerbated by the many reasons we go to food that are totally unrelated to the body’s need and as a result we don’t really know what feeling hungry feels like. Maybe we eat because it’s time to eat, other people are eating, or we’re in New York at our favorite restaurant, and don’t know when we’re going to have that cheesecake again. We may eat because we are feeling feelings that are uncomfortable and difficult to sit with. Years of diets and restrictive eating  have taught us well that an empty, hungry feeling = success, and over time, we train ourselves to ignore the body’s messages.

As we begin to establish better communication with our body hunger, a hunger/satiety scale can be a useful tool to assess and track physical hunger, to become more discerning.  How hungry are we when we decide to eat?  And does our level of hunger affect how much we eat? What we eat?  Over time in my own practice of becoming an attuned eater, I’ve noticed that the hungrier I got, the more difficult it was for me to discern what kind of food I wanted, and how much would meet my body’s needs.  Tuning into the body this way also gives us great feedback around how food makes us feel, and how long certain foods sustain our feeling of satisfaction and our energy.

So the simple advice to follow your body’s signals, to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full is not so simple after all. Mindful eating is a wonderful practice that invites us to hear these signals.  Listening for our hunger and responding to our bodies needs in this way is a profound act of self-care.

What have you noticed about your hunger?

5 Responses (Add Yours)

  • Julia says:

    I remember the first time I completed a meal while at Green Mountain and was still hungry. I got so scared. What if I was at home? Would I start bingeing because I wasn’t full after a balanced meal? I was so confused and convinced my body would never give me the ‘right’ signals. But I kept a it, and thank goodness for the safety of Green Mountain. It just takes time. And even just ten minutes after that meal, I was no longer hungry. No need to panic :)

  • I’m the opposite. Being hungrier makes it easier for me to discern what I truly want to eat, and to stop at ‘enough’.

  • I really struggled *for years* to find my hunger signal. It was essential for me to eat every 4-5 hours, to get my body used to eating meals at regular times. Before that my meals/eating was so chaotic, so my body didn’t trust that I would feed it regularly. Slowly, my hunger meter started to kick in.

  • Lately I’ve been noticing that I have what I consider to be true physical hunger but in response to my emotions (and I’ve been bingeing/overeating). I want to explore this on my blog because once I figured it out, that hunger has dissipated somewhat. I mean, I still get hungry, but it doesn’t feel inappropriate or out of control.

  • Marsha says:

    @EatingPathtoYoga That’s a good example of how we can support our bodies in returning to their natural abilities, Jill. It can take a while but if we hang in there, it happens. The hanging in there can be tough, though. That’s why it is so important to share your experience –with someone who has been there, done that, or a professional who can hold your hand through the process.

    @Karen — I’ll have to check out your blog. I’m not sure what you’re describing.

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