You know when you’re hungry, but you’re not hungry? You want to eat, but you know your body isn’t in need of nourishment? Jan Chozen Bays, one of the leading lights in the Mindful Eating movement, explains this in terms of what she calls The Eight Hungers.
The Eight Hungers
Mindfulness is about full awareness of your experience in the present moment, without judgement. So it’ll be no surprise then, that the Eight Hungers encompass your full experience!
This doesn’t need masses of explanation! How food looks matters! The Japanese take a lot of care in their presentation – you can ‘feast your eyes’ on it! Think about what would satisfy your eye hunger more: a packet of crisps (potato chips for you American readers), or a bowl of fresh fruit salad?
While it’s important to pay attention to how food looks in order to satisfy this type of hunger, it can also lead you into mindless eating, if you’re not really paying attention. For example, you’re not physically hungry, but you walk passed a bowl of cherries or chocolate covered almonds (or whatever!) and grab a handful, purely because you have seen them. Had you not seen them, you would not have thought about eating.
Ah, the waft of freshly baked bread: that yeasty, warm aroma… The tangy scent of an orange… Sunday Roast… these all feed nose hunger. And while it adds satisfaction to your overall eating experience if what you’re eating smells appealing, nose hunger can also lead you down the path of mindless eating. You’re not actually hungry and wouldn’t have thought of eating had it not been for that irresistible smell! (Nothing wrong with that, of course – just recognise it for what it is.)
I remember when I was growing up, my younger brother would fall asleep at the drop of a hat – in a restaurant, at the dining room table, on the sofa in the middle of a conversation… All that was needed for him to go from slumber to pert alertness in the space of 10 seconds, was the crackle of sweet wrappers! We used to tease him, and crinkle wrappers in his ear to watch his quick response – then all laugh our heads off when we saw his disappointment that there weren’t actually any sweets!
Food technologists (ugh, what a horrible term!) exploit ear hunger. They spend a lot of time and money researching the exact crunch that eaters respond to, to make their food more appealing, so in turn, people will eat more of it.
But that doesn’t change the fact that our ears are a part of our sensory experience: the sound of crunching carrots, or crackers, the sound of slurping, swallowing, or even opening a can of something – can be either a trigger for eating, or, conversely, it can put one off!
This is the desire for pleasurable sensations in the mouth: tastes and textures! It can be tricky to satisfy, because taste buds can tire quite easily, and then the mouth cries out for something different, regardless of stomach hunger.
This is quite simply your body’s natural, physical hunger: your body’s need for fuel. The signal is your hunger cues, from a barely audible whisper, to an urgent, almost frantic scream for food!
Cellular hunger is what the body needs on a cellular level. But sometimes what the body needs is water rather than food. The body is wise! It knows what it needs! Sometimes a dislike or aversion to a particular food points to an intolerance or allergy. On the other hand, some cravings can point to a nutrient the body is lacking. Pregnant women can be fascinatingly in touch with this – sometimes having cravings for unusual, inexplicable combinations of foods they know they must have! Because we’ve become so disconnected from our bodies – due to distractions, busy-ness, tiredness and diet-mentality, it can be quite hard to really tune in to cellular hunger. With mindfulness practice, time, and patience, you can reconnect with your cellular hunger.
Ah! The mind – thought-based hunger… the shoulds and shouldn’ts, musts and must nots… are all mind hunger. Diet mentality is mind hunger: rules about what, when and how much to eat based on external sources of information.
Mind hunger is also excuses, justifications and rationalisations about eating: ‘I’ll have it now otherwise later it’ll be gone/stale/passed its sell-by date etc;’ ‘I’ve had a hard day – I deserve it.’
Mind hunger can be very difficult to satisfy: it often contains conflicting messages; and can flit from one thing to the next.
When you eat to distract yourself from something you’re feeling emotionally, that’s heart hunger. Sadly, you can’t fill the hole in your heart with food, though it may distract you from recognising and dealing with the feelings for a short while.
Think about whether you eat certain types of foods to soothe specific types of feelings. Do you eat crunchy, chewy foods when you’re angry? Soft, warm, sweet foods when you’re sad, hurt or lonely? What foods do you use when you’re anxious or scared? Notice any patterns?
Satisfying the hungers
In order to live a whole, full and satisfying life, all our hungers must be satisfied – but they don’t all need to be satisfied with food!
Paying close attention to the experience of eating can definitely satisfy some of the hungers, like eye, nose, ear and mouth hunger. But you can also feast your eyes on nature. You can satisfy nose hunger on freshly cut grass, or a baby’s soft skin; and birdsong, music, or the sound of laughter, can feed ear hunger.
Stomach and cellular hunger need food. They are the only hungers that do.
Heart and mind hunger really cannot be truly satisfied with food. Heart hunger requires understanding, compassion and kindness. Mind hunger likes to figure something out, or learn something new. And both of these hungers can be soothed with a consistent practice of mindfulness.
Next time you want to eat, and it’s not stomach or cellular hunger – tune in and ask yourself which of the other hungers is at play, and what would satisfy it.
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