Mindful Hunger Comfort Eating


Today’s topic is a Two-parter because it is such a big and important topic. Obesity, as we all know, is a topical issue in today’s society. Eating disorders are also unacceptable common for women and men worldwide.

As I sit here regretting having eaten my lunch at 10.15 and feeling uncomfortably full, I start to question which hunger I have satisfied. Jan Chozen Bays, pediatrician, zen teacher and author of Mindful Eating describes seven types of hunger. ‘Being hungry’ can mean so much more than our primal need for sustenance. What’s interesting is that we seem to know this at some level but we may not be aware of it. How many times have you been SO full and had sometime tell you that your eyes were bigger than your stomach (Eye hunger)? Or walked past the bakery and after one whiff realised how hungry you were (Nose hunger)? We all know about comfort food, chocolate and ice cream that ‘helps‘ us through a break up (Heart hunger). When we start to feed ourselves mindfully, we start to see that what we hunger for is more than food. Let’s visit these hungers…

Eye hunger

This is probably one of the hungers we are more familiar with. We see a beautifully decorated cupcake next to a plain cracker. Come on…be honest which looks more appetizing? Our eyes play an important role in what and how much we eat. When we are given a huge serving of food on a massive plate we are almost guaranteed to eat more than if we we given a normal sized serving on regular sized plate. This is problematic as serving sizes have been steadily increase over the last fifty years.

So how do we appease eye hunger? Human senses are always seek stimulation, so if it your eyes hungering for stimulation then give it to them. First ask yourself if it eye hunger alone that you are seeking. If so then find something nice to look at, a distraction for your eyes. If you are really hungry then prepare your in a way that is visually appealing. Set your table with the nice cutlery, place mats and plates and present your meal to yourself. The japanese make eating into an art form by carefully arranging the small portions of food on the plate so they are pleasing to the eyes. Next, try using smaller plates to control for the large plate illusion. Fill your small plate with different colours and textures. When everything is visually beautiful, then eat.

Nose hunger

Have you ever noticed that doughnuts smell so much better than they taste? Smell can be a strong hunger stimulant. In fact most of what we ‘taste’ is in fact smell. While we recognise 5 different tastes, sweet, sour, bitter, salty, unami (with fat as a recently found sixth taste), we are able to distinguish over 10 000 distinct odours. Notice how food tastes the next time you have a cold or a blocked nose…. pretty bland!

Nose hunger is one of the easiest hungers to deal with. Smell nice things! Ok, this can get awkward, advise shoving your face into someone’s plate and taking a huge whiff! But try ‘subtly’ enjoying the smell of food without eating. Again, feed your senses!

Mouth hunger

Mouth hunger does not explicitly refer to taste. It includes texture, taste, chewing and the urge to get as much in there as possible as well as drinking and smoking. We want to have that party in our mouth. That taste explosion!! One of the reasons we are attracted to processed food is that they tend to be either sweet or salty. These are the two flavours that we seem to be predisposed to enjoy. Processed foods offer that intense hit of flavour, unfortunately they aren’t good for your body! Mindful eating is about recognising and enjoying the subtleties of flavour. A simple way to ease mouth hunger is slowing down. Ever notice that the first bites of a meal are the best, meanwhile by the end of the meal you can barely get a taste before the next mouthful is piled in? Slowing right down when eating and concentrating on each bite will help satisfy mouth hunger while being able to notice when our other hungers are satisfied. Chewing more, is also a simple and effective way to slow down and eat less.

Stomach hunger

Now we are getting to the crunch. Stomach hunger is something that we tend to ignore, rather lack of stomach hunger is what we ignore. All our other hungers get in the way, especially the sensation hungers. Ever think, I am sooooo stuffed I couldn’t handle another bite but then someone brings out dessert and suddenly there is room? That is ignoring stomach hunger. Stomach hunger is what we can refer to as ‘real’ hunger for food and sustenance. If we start eating before our stomach is hungry it becomes difficult to know when to stop. Dieting and binging can distort our stomach hunger. We can start feeling hunger when our stomach are full or full before we are satiated. Obesity and diabetes have been linked to distortion in the perception of stomach hunger. Without going into too much detail, as we eat our blood sugar levels increase; our body then releases insulin to facilitate the the removal of glucose from blood to be used in the body’s cells for energy. When there is too much insulin being produced (hypoglycemia) body sugar levels are reduced. Hunger is linked to low blood sugar so people with high insulin will feel hungry. This causes them to eat more food but because the cells have sufficient glucose it will be converted to fat. This can be a problem for people with diabetes who are on insulin medication.

So, I digress, but you can see how difficult it can be to read stomach hunger. The best way to become aware of true stomach hunger is to listen to your body. Satisfy your other senses first, if you still feel hungry, then eat. Again, eat slowly. This allows your body time to recognise when it is full.

Please stay tuned, tomorrow in Part 2, we will be looking at cellular hunger followed what I would consider the “Big Two” in disordered eating Mind Hunger and Heart Hunger


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The Mind Centre was a counselling and meditation centre for several years before morphing into an information centre for people seeking to know more about mind and body health.

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