Am I Really Hungry?
Understanding Your Relationship to Food through a Silent Meal
Mindfulness exercises are woven into many of our programs at Green Mountain at Fox Run. As it relates to food and eating, mindfulness invites us to bring ourselves more fully to the table. The practice of mindful eating can be profoundly enlightening and healing. We can learn about our relationships to food and notice our habits. We can feel our body’s signals more clearly, recognize physical hunger and fullness, and even notice the places in between.
The Seven Hungers
Inspired by the teachings of Jan Chozen Bays, MD, author of “Mindful Eating” and teacher for the Zen Community of Oregon, we have been exploring the model of the seven hungers at Green Mountain. Observing eye hunger, nose hunger, mouth hunger, stomach hunger, mind hunger, cellular hunger, and heart hunger offers us a new way eat mindfully with a greater level of discernment. Often these sensory hungers lead us to eat when we are not physically hungry. However, when we are physically hungry, feeding these senses, the eyes, the nose, the mouth, can enhance the satisfaction and nutritional benefits of a meal.
At Green Mountain, one of our most popular mindfulness exercises is the silent meal we do each week, the purpose of which is to raise awareness of the entire eating experience and get to know our hungers better. Many women have told us the experience is incredibly powerful, revealing much about their relationships with food and themselves. We encourage trying a silent meal at home to help your observe your own relationship with food. Below is a step-by-step process to help you make your own discoveries:
Before the meal, ask:
- Are you physically hungry or not?
- What part of your meal are you looking forward to eating the most?
- What part of you is hungry right now?
During the meal, notice:
- Look at your plate. What part of your body wants to eat first? Is it your mouth? Your hand? Your eyes?
- Let your eyes linger on the food and feast on the color, shape and composition. Choose a piece of food to begin.
- Bring the food to your nose; does it increase your desire for the food or not?
- Put it in your mouth and feel the texture as you begin to chew.
- Does the taste change when you start to chew the food?
- When you swallow, can you sense how it’s feeding and nourishing your body?
- Notice what your mind might be saying about the food, e.g. “this is good,” or “this is good for me, so I should eat more of this.” Often, at this step a “should” might show up. Just observe it.
- As you eat, check in with your feelings. Notice if there is any connection with comfort, soothing, memory, happiness, warmth, or connection.
Why This Mindful Eating Strategy Works
A silent meal can help you have a full sensory experience of the food. Being present to the visual appearance, smell, taste, of the food and how it feels in our bodies makes it possible for us to derive pleasure from food and eating, a unique gift we have as part of the human experience. While some may believe that the joy of eating is slippery slope on the way to indulgence, we believe that feeding ourselves with pleasure is necessary. Denying ourselves the full experience of presence and pleasure is one of the factors that can lead us to overeat. When we’re really there, at the table, with the food, and when we can give ourselves full permission to eat and enjoy eating, most of us find we don’t need to eat as much.
With mindful awareness, we may be able to identify hungers that can only be satisfied with food, and those hungers that cannot be fully satisfied with food. As we connect with these different aspects of hunger, we can use this as a bridge to self care, to feeding and nourishing our whole selves, with and without food.