Mindful Eating Series: Feeding Heart Hunger

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Mindful eating and the seven hungers | Heart hunger and what drives us to overeatThis is the last post in our mindful eating series where we explore the seven hungers as discussed in Jan Chozen Bay’s book, “Mindful Eating.” Eye hunger, nose hunger, mouth hunger, stomach hunger, cellular hunger, mind hunger and heart hunger, each provide a unique lens through which we can investigate our relationship to food and the body. For those who come to Green Mountain at Fox Run to create healthy lifestyle changes, noticing eating through the seven hungers can be very helpful. 

Of the seven hungers, heart hunger represents what many may also call emotional or spiritual hunger. Heart hunger is sometimes sensed as an emptiness or longing. When asked what the heart is hungry for, people say connection, love, affection or touch. And yet it is often food that we use to satisfy these needs.

While food cannot fill the hole in your heart, eating can provide some nourishment to this part of us. That we go to food sometimes for comfort or to calm or distract us is not necessarily a bad thing. We don’t have to completely cut emotional eating from our lives, although that’s often part of our “all or nothing” conversation.  “I’ll never eat again when I’m __________(happy, sad, bored, lonely, angry….).” 

Eating for all of these reasons sometimes is part of normal eating.  It is when we have no other resources, or when our eating (or the subsequent judging ourselves about our eating and our bodies) gets in the way of us living our lives, or feeling our feelings, that we may need to get serious about addressing what’s driving us to eat.

The beauty of mindfulness is the creation of space around our eating so that we may know that we are eating out of sadness, frustration or loneliness, rather than eating unconsciously. Only when we notice are we able to begin to address the real issues, which are often masked by eating or yelling at ourselves about our eating.

In our class around the seven hungers, heart hunger often shows up in our stories around food connected to memories, e.g. when you were baking with your grandmother; family meals at holiday time; or the special foods you loved as a child. Good or bad, food is part of our story. Feed your heart by eating with people you love. Give them your presence at the table.  Before you eat, pause to acknowledge the miracle of this food.  For yourself and others, prepare food with loving attention to detail. Put your heart into the meals you prepare and how you eat them. And then consider what would feed your heart beyond food….

In the summer before moving to Vermont, I had a wonderful weekend cultivating awareness around food and eating while attending a mindful eating weekend led by Jan Chozen Bays at the Great Vow Monastery in Oregon.  While I have been on this journey of looking at my relationship to food, eating, and my body for many years now, I can still be surprised what shows up when I look through the lens of mindfulness.

One of my favorite experiences in the workshop was around feeding heart hunger. The instructions were simple, “go outside and feed your heart hunger.” And it was so intuitive, that I knew how to nourish my heart without knowing I knew.  Stopping, breathing the fresh air, feeling it on my skin, lifting my face to the sun, moving with the rhythm of the wind, leaning into and feeling the support of the trees, lying down and resting my body on the earth. I found great comfort and deep nourishment in that, in nature.

To feed your heart hunger you might ask yourself, “What really feeds my heart?” or  “What does my heart long for?”  And then listen to what is revealed….

What would it be like if you kept your heart well-fed, more of the time?

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