This 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?