Mind Hunger

Mindful Eating BookLet’s continue our 7 types of hunger discussion with “mind hunger”.  Dr. Bays states that, “Mind hunger is based on thoughts:”

“I should eat more protein.”

“I deserve an ice cream cone.”

“I should drink 12 glasses of water a day.”

“Mind hunger is influenced by what we take in through the eyes and ears, the words we read and hear.  Mind hunger is often based upon absolutes and opposites:  good food versus bad food, should eat versus should not eat.”

All of the studies we read, the fad diets we try and the importance society places on external appearance contributes to toxic nutritional beliefs that catapult us into mind hunger and out of body wisdom.  Additionally, these toxic nutritional beliefs cause us self-induced stress which slows down physiologic functions that govern metabolism and calorie burning.  We’re defeating ourselves by these thoughts!

Dr. Bays continues, “When we eat based upon the thoughts in the mind, our eating is usually based in worry.  When the mind is fretting about “should eat” and “should not eat,” our enjoyment of what is actually in our mouth evaporates.”

This is in direct conflict with the fact that we need food to survive and that it was made to be pleasurable.  If it wasn’t pleasurable, we wouldn’t want to do it causing our species to die out.  Mind hunger takes away our pleasure of eating.

“Mind hunger is exactly what lies at the heart of our current disturbed relationship to eating and food.  Our minds do not always tell us the truth.  In order to restore a harmonious relationship to eating, in order to enjoy our food, we must learn to listen to the deeper wisdom of our body.”

Before eating, check in:  are you eating what your body wants or what your mind is telling you is “good” or “low in calories”?  Are you satisfied when you are done or are you justifying “having one more” because what you’re eating is dietetic but void of nutrients?  These are important questions that lead to the understanding of what constitutes mindful eating and a healthier relationship with food.

Cellular Hunger

Mindful Eating BookJan Chozen Bays, MD in her book, “Mindful Eating” defines cellular hunger as signals from our body that tell us when to eat, when to stop and what to eat.  She states, “If we are to return to a healthy and balanced relationship with food, it is essential that we learn to turn our awareness inward and to hear again what our body is always telling us about its needs and its satisfaction.  To learn to listen to cellular hunger is the primary skill of mindful eating.”  She further explains, “The body has its own wisdom and can tell us a lot about what it requires if we are able to listen.  Unfortunately, as we get older we become deaf to what our bodies are telling us we need.”

Have you ever had a craving for salt or red meat?  These cravings could be signals from your body telling you it needs salt or iron.  Have you ever just needed to drink some water because no other liquid could quench your thirst?  This could be a sign that you are dehydrated.

“The essential elements satisfy cellular hunger.  These include water, salt, protein, fat, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins and trace elements such as iron or zinc.”  In fact, many episodes of bingeing can be directly attributed to not having eaten the proper nutrition, or essential elements, throughout the day, like protein or healthy fat.  These deficiencies are sneaky and often disguise themselves as cravings for junk food when your body is really calling for nutrients!  Small tweaks in the diet to include more healthy protein or fat will usually curb binges or eliminate them altogether.  Pretty cool, huh?

Do you tap into your cravings to see what they are telling you?  Can you listen to your body to see what it TRULY needs and eat accordingly?  This takes practice but is well worth it because it’s a pretty gentle way to achieve a positive relationship with food and maintain a healthy weight.




Stomach Hunger

Stomach hunger is the 4th type of hunger Jan Chozen Bays, MD identifies in her book, “Mindful Eating” and it is very complex to explain but I will try using quotes from her book and my commentary at the end.

Dr. Bays writes:

“Often hunger is described as gnawing, as if an animal were eating at our insides.  It growls and complains until we throw food down the tunnel to placate it.  However, the notion that the stomach tells us when we must feed it is not correct.  We actually tell the stomach when to be hungry.  This occurs through our eating habits.”

“If you fast for over three days, the hunger pangs and growling disappear.  The abdomen feels flat, quiet and comfortable.  This tells us that stomach hunger is not a permanent, solid feature of our lives, one whose urging we must obey.  It’s our body hunger that is more fundamental and important to learn to feel.”

“On the other hand, if we ignore sensations of hunger, we’ll get in trouble too.  We have to walk the middle way with hunger.  This means to be aware of signs of hunger in the whole body, not just the hunger signals from a stomach that demands food at the same time every day.  It means not to be upset if our stomach is growling but we can’t eat right away or we need to eat less.  It also means not ignoring our body when it tells us it needs quality fuel.

Sometimes we mistake hunger for acid reflux or feelings of anxiety.  We eat more thinking that will “fill” us up to relieve the symptoms but that makes the discomfort worse because we are exacerbating the reflux or anxiety.  “The cure is to sit down and take care of myself in the proper way.  I assess hunger in the eyes, mouth, and stomach.  I acknowledge that my stomach is helping me by signaling my anxiety.  I thank it for its message and promise to attend to my real needs.”

“In our workshops on mindful eating we have found that many people are completely unaware of stomach hunger.  They are mystified about how to go about assessing the experience of their stomach and cannot get a read on whether their stomachs are full, half full, or empty.  It is a revelation for many people to find that they can begin to “listen” to the stomach and act upon its intelligence.  When we are able to do this, very often we find that we are about to put food into a stomach that actually is not hungry, a stomach that asks us to wait for a while and reassess for hunger in a few hours.  It is a good feeling to begin to live in harmony with our body, to learn from its wisdom.”

Confusing, right?  It can be, especially for those of us who binge because we rarely check in to see if we’re hungry before eating (some of us do, most of us don’t).  I know many people who don’t know what hunger feels like and only a pattern of normalized eating and embodiment helps us uncover that body wisdom.  It is very important to have the ability to identify stomach hunger in staving off the urge to binge.  I work on this with my coaching clients because it forms a foundation for a strategy I use for binge avoidance.

Dr. Bays suggests the following exercise to get in touch with stomach hunger, “When you sit down to eat, take a few seconds to assess stomach hunger on a scale from zero to ten, zero being not hungry and ten being “starving.”  After you’ve eaten half your food, stop eating and take a few seconds to assess stomach hunger again.  At the end of the meal, assess stomach hunger again.  To satisfy stomach hunger we need to feed the stomach just enough food, let it do its work, and then let it rest.  As we eat we need to pause periodically to check in with the stomach to discern when it is becoming comfortably full.”

This is why slow eating is so important, it not only allows body wisdom to guide how much you eat but it also eliminates a stress response to eating that shuts down calorie burning and metabolic function (this is a topic for another blog and it will blow your mind!).

Hit the comments and let me know how this exercise worked for you!


Mouth Hunger

Jan Chozen Bays, MD defines mouth hunger as the “mouth’s desire for pleasurable sensations.”  She postulates that, “the key to satisfying mouth hunger is to be present at the party in the mouth.  This means to place the focus of our mind in our mouth and to open our awareness to all the textures, movements, smells, sounds, and taste sensations of eating and drinking.”

When we distract during mealtimes with television, reading or fast eating, we don’t satiate our mouth hunger and we continue to eat (past the point of fullness) to satisfy the mouth’s desire.

Nose Hunger

Continuing with Jan Chosen Bays’ 7 types of hunger…

Nose Hunger

How does your sense of smell influence your eating?  Do you smell food that is aromatic and want to eat it just because it smells so good even though you aren’t hungry?  Dr. Bays asserts that smell is actually synonymous with taste which is to say that if there is no smell, there is no taste.  “Our taste buds, on the tongue, only register 5 flavors:  sweet, salty, sour, bitter and amino acids.  When we can’t smell food, we perceive it as having almost no taste.”  Think about this when your nose is congested…do you taste food as well as when you’re not congested?  The smell of food is so enticing and, to me, there is no better sign of comfort than walking into a house that smells of home cooking.  If only our actual hunger would always fall in line with our nose hunger!

7 Kinds of Hunger

Jan Chozen Bays, MD is the author of “Mindful Eating,” and she makes a lot of interesting points in her book.  She defines “Seven Kinds of Hunger” which puts words to our approaches toward food.  I think I’ll do another series describing and commenting on them each Sunday.  I hope you join me by posting in the comments.  Here goes…

Eye Hunger

Have you ever been stuffed but just had to have that dessert because it LOOKS so delicious and tempting?  That’s eye hunger.  This week, try to notice food that is beautifully presented and what your reaction is…did you eat it, were you hungry, were you stuffed but ate it anyway, did you resist?  Report back your results, please!

Enjoy, live and love, Michelle