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?