Mindful Eating Series: Can You Hear What Your Cells Are Saying?


Cell signals that direct eating behaviors and choiceThis is the fifth post in our series exploring the seven hungers — eye hunger, nose hunger, mouth hunger, stomach hunger, cellular hunger, mind hunger and heart hunger — as discussed in Jan Chozen Bay’s book Mindful Eating.  Each hunger provides a unique voice to help you discover your relationship to food and the body.  By noticing your eating through each hunger, from a place of curiosity, not judgment, change is possible.

When we go through the seven hungers in our mindful eating class, cellular hunger is the most difficult to understand. Certainly, when the physical sensation of hunger is a foreign experience, the even quieter voice of cellular hunger, requires time and patient attention to hear: “How can I possibly hear what my cells are saying?”

Addressing cellular hunger means listening for and feeding our body’s nutritional needs.  And while there is much information out there about what is nutritious, mindful eating invites us to consult our bodies.  Years of eating according to external guidelines, as well as too much nutrition information, can get in the way of really listening to the body and trusting its message.  This is most difficult for the many of us who eat mindlessly and don’t really notice the impact of food on how our bodies feel.

While we may feel out of touch with our cells’ nutritional needs, Dr. Bays suggests you may recognize the experience of cellular hunger when you’re sick.  When you’re not feeling well, the messages about what your body wants… hot tea, chicken soup, dry toast are clearer.  Or you may notice cellular hunger when you become aware of the different types of food your body desires in the different seasons, more substantial hot foods in the colder winter months and lighter, colder foods, like salads, and fruit when it’s hot.

Years of restriction, denying yourself certain foods, or distrusting your body, requires some undoing to get to really hear the body’s signals. We might be afraid of what the body will say if we check in. “What if my body asks for cookies, fried chicken or pizza?  That can’t be good.  And if I ask my body, won’t I want that all the time?” 

While it’s true that when you first begin to consult the body, it’s more likely the mind that responds.  Over time, if we practice listening, and responding to the body and paying attention to how food makes us feel, we may be surprised that the body really desires a variety of foods (and you can try this with movement, too!).

What I practice myself, and suggest to participants at Green Mountain, is that when possible, consult your body before you look at the menu or open the refrigerator.  This works best when you’re not restricting food and are familiar with and feeding your stomach hunger.  The first question would be “am I hungry?”  And then you can check in with your body around what it needs and wants to eat. The founders of Overcoming Overeating refer to this process as making the match.  Ask your body, and be specific… do you want something cold?  Crunchy?  Spicy?  Imagine the food in your body. Is this the right fit?

You may not be able to find exactly what your body wants, but if you do your best to listen and respond to as many of these qualities as you can, feeding yourself this way can be deeply satisfying.

Can you think of a time when you experienced cellular hunger? What did it tell you?

3 responses to “Mindful Eating Series: Can You Hear What Your Cells Are Saying?”

  1. Whenever I go through a period where I am very sick, say the flu, the moment I feel well enough to eat, my body tells me to eat steak. I don’t eat a lot steak typically, but it is my go to food when I am recovered! I imagine my body craves the iron, but I could be well. It’s so amazing what our bodies tell us, when we take the time to tune in and listen.

  2. Victoria says:

    Mindful eating has become one of the important tools I use for sustaining the weight loss after my Green Mountian visit. I have been able to use this important technique to substitute for the mindless eating I have done in the past. Checking in with myself to ask, “Am I hungry for this? If not what am I hungry for?” I often will often choose the crunchiness of celery and fresh peppers in a salad for dinner. This is much more satisfying than junk food for me. Of course, this means alot more organization is necessary for me to have the healthy, fresh food I AM hungry for ready to cook and eat. Being prepared with wholesome, healthy food has meant my whole family has eats differently. Taking care of myself and my family is deeply satisfying for me.

  3. Kim says:

    True hunger was something I never really experienced until I attended GM. Being mindful for me is waiting till I’m physically hungry, not “feeling” hungry. I’ve discovered that if I’m “hungry” and don’t know what I want, there is something else behind that feeling. When my body is hungry I know exactly what I want and it’s satisfied by a meal. I found that I crave steak at certain times of the month and in the meantime discovered that my iron is low. My body was telling me, it just took me awhile to realize I should listen.

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About the Author

Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, CD

If you’re looking for an embodiment of dedication disguised as obsession, look no further. Marsha is a registered dietitian who has spent the last four decades working to help women give up dieting rules and understand how to truly take care of themselves. Her mission in life is to help women learn to enjoy eating and living well, without worries about their weight. She encourages women to embrace their love of food, which you might call being a foodie. If so, it’s appropriate because being a foodie means you pay attention when you eat. That’s a recipe made in heaven for eating well. Marsha is the President and Co-Owner of Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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