Eating Mindfully: Changing your relationship with feeding your body


Another mindful application? You bet. One of the most powerful ones you can implement in your life, as it can impact the well-being of your mind-body-spirit every day: the application of mindful eating. After all, how many of us can say we eat “mindfully” and not from reactive habits or those conditioned in us at a young age?  I recently participated in the Mindful Eating- Conscious Living course at UCSD Center for Mindfulness, and what I discovered are tools that I intend to use for the rest of my life, that can help me improve not only my wellbeing but my client’s well-being also, and the quality of our days and life overall.

This 8-week, 20 hour course is based on the book, Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food, by Jan Chozen Bays, MD, and dips a bit into another resource, Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink, Ph.D. Many concepts are covered in this class from being aware of where our hungers originate, to how our habits are conditioned and the choices we are free to make now, more mindfully. Like any mindfulness program that brings awareness to the topic on which it focuses, this course brings awareness to our relationship with food. Additionally, it helps us make better choices when thinking about the need to refuel– not necessarily WHAT we refuel with, but WHY, WHEN, WHERE and HOW. We also learned different ways of satisfying hungers that do not involve food, but need our appetite needs.

Why We Eat: Feeding our Hungers

One of the big take-a-ways for eating mindfully is being able to tune into the origin of our hungers, and identify the need being expressed. Chozen Bays states there are many kinds of hungers that are actually experiences of the senses, thoughts and emotions within our body, mind and heart. She encourages us to ask and answer many questions before delving into that next plate of food, piece of overly cheesed pizza, or creamy sundae of ice cream. These questions include: what is the sound of hunger? What is the taste of hunger? Where does it reside in my body? And why am I hungry?

Chozen Bays introduces seven kinds of hunger, many of them involving our senses. We additionally added one more during the class—identifying a total of 8. By tuning into our senses, we can become aware of where we are feeling our hunger, where it originates answering those questions above and evaluate if food is the best answer to fulfill our perceived need for food. These questions are definitely worth asking and answering each time we refuel or reach for that handy snack that we think will satisfy our craving. But will it? Try checking in with the following hungers next time you sit down for a meal, and really contemplate from where your hungers stem, what need you are filling, and then decide on ways you can satisfy that hunger.

Eye Hunger

Does your appetite begin to surface when you look at appealing food? In a restaurant when we are done with our meals it’s very common for the waiter/waitress to pass around the dessert tray. But how many of us are full by the time that tray comes around? Better yet, how many of us give in to that delicious dessert because it looks good? Or we may tell ourselves we’ll eat half of something (even though the size of that thing may be big enough to be two portions), and end up eating the entirety. The eyes can override our stomach and mind, suggesting we are hungry, when in fact it’s our eyes that are hungry. Next time you eat, check into your eye hunger and assess your level (1-low hunger to 10-high hunger). If you find it is high, and your other hungers are low, try taking in beauty somewhere else besides food (like in nature, art, etc…). After all, eye hunger is all about being hungry for something beautiful.

Nose Hunger

Have you ever walked into a bakery while cookies are baking, or a movie theatre while the popcorn is popping and started to feel hungry? Sometimes smell can elicit a craving for comfort food. Evolutionarily, nose hunger served our ancestors to be aware of food that was good to eat or that had spoiled. Today, we are taking in far too many foods based on smell. Though the tongue can taste only 5 flavors, the nose can detect up to 10,000 different smells. In addition, our olfactory sense can increase the intense flavor of food, and the “right” smell can make us consume even more. Next time you notice the smell of food, try assessing your nose hunger – again rating it as above, 1: low – 10: high. If your nose hunger is high but the rest of the hungers are low, try taking in something that is fragrant—sniff a flower, burn a candle, go out into nature, or try a dash of perfume.

Mouth Hunger

Our species is very oral. Putting food into our mouths can be very pleasurable. But how often do we really pay attention to what is in our mouths? How often have you found yourself shoveling food into your mouth, spoonful by spoonful without really tasting it, and realizing that you are done with the entire portion? How often are we aware of the texture, flavor and density of our food? How often do we notice the individual taste of each ingredient? Not very often, especially if we are visiting with others or distracted by watching TV or reading. Genetics, food habits, culture and conditioning can also impact all our hungers, especially mouth hunger. If we want to have a “party in the mouth,” we need to make sure the mind is invited—so that we are aware of all the sensations within our mouths. Next time you eat assess your mouth hunger, assess your thirst situation as well. There are many things we can do with extending the satisfying of mouth hunger. When you eat or drink mindfully, hold the food or liquid in your mouth and savor the qualities before swallowing. Try varying the texture of your food (i.e. an apple, or apple juice or apple sauce). Try chewing 15 times with each bite, to really break down the density.

Stomach Hunger

We know we are hungry when our stomach rumbles and we experience hunger pangs. But is it really hunger, or could it be stress? Or the anxiety we feel as we contemplate all the tasks and deadlines we have on our list for the day? Sometimes stomach hunger and stress can present themselves similarly. Or do we feel our stomachs are hungry because we have trained them to eat at a certain time of the day, and if we have an “empty” feeling around that time, we know we should eat? Our stomach, in the end, likes to be ¾ of the way full. Start your next meal assessing your stomach hunger (1-low, 10- high). If it’s high, then eat one food item/portion and assess your situation again. The stomach likes to eat, and then rest…. Which is something that a lot of people in our society could benefit by from understanding. Give your stomach a chance to recover instead of constantly keeping it full.

Cellular Hunger

This hunger really speaks to what our body needs in terms of essential building blocks. It’s an instinctual awareness of what our body requires, and how much of it. The body is very effective in telling us what is missing or its request for a certain nutrient, if we only listen. Think about the last time you really craved something. Can you trace it to an element—chips and salt; meat or eggs and protein; oranges and vitamin C; bananas and potassium, etc…. Next time you are in search for food, stand there looking into your fridge or pantry and ask your body, “Please body, tell me what you need now.” See what pops up and if you can trace it back to an essential element.

Mind Hunger

When we express mind hunger, we begin to think “should” statements: I should drink 12 glasses of water a day, I should stay away from sweets, I should eat more fruits and vegetables, etc…. Mind hunger forms by what we take in through the eyes, ears and words around us. We should eat a big breakfast; or we shouldn’t eat (especially fruits) after a certain hour because our metabolism slows. Mind hunger uses knowledge—a cultural knowledge of what is believed to be best at the time—and not stomach or cellular hunger. Mind hunger puts a judgment on food—noting how some things are bad for us and others better for us. Try this for practice: notice what your mind is telling you about hunger during the day. Listen for what the mind thinks you “should” eat. Notice if there are competing voices about what you wish to eat, as that is generally a sign of mind hunger. Rate your mind hunger. If it’s higher than the others, think about a different source of where you can get information. Mind hunger is satisfied with information.

Heart Hunger

When we are sad many of us sometimes reach for food feeling that it will comfort us and make us feel better. In the end we sometimes eat more, and it does the opposite, making us feel worse. Sometimes we reach for food out of memory of the heart, and how it made us feel at a certain time and with a certain person: Grandma’s soup and sandwiches, mom’s cookies, or sharing a great meal with a friend or loved one.

Heart hunger craves food eaten when we were a child with an illness or during a holiday with our extended family. Heart hunger attempts to fill a void or hole in the heart. We cannot depend on food to fill the empty places in our hearts, as it is nourished through intimacy or connection with others or even oneself. Next time you feel hunger in your heart, assess your hunger, again rating it 1-10. If you’re high on heart hunger and not the others, consider doing something that connects you with others; loved ones or even nature. Or even doing some kind act for yourself like taking a relaxing bath, reading a book, or going for a walk in nature. Another idea is to try giving thanks for all of those that were involved in growing/prepping/making the food—to feel the connection.

Ear Hunger

This hunger is not in Chozen Bay’s book, but is just as real. When you hear the crunch or pop or sound of food, do you begin to think about it and start to get hungry? The crunch of a carrot or ripping up lettuce leaves? Another ear hunger perspective: upon hearing a certain song or phrase, do you bring up memories that stir your appetite? These sounds all have something to do with ear hunger and eliciting the desire for food.   Do you feel hungrier when there is silence or activity going on around you? Some people feel more at ease with food when there is activity. However, if you can find yourself a quiet space to eat, you may be surprised at what you hear inside yourself. Next time you feel hungry, assess your ear hunger. Is there anything that you pick up through hearing that is contributing to the hunger? If this hunger is higher than the others, try finding something to listen to that fills that need—like your favorite song, or listening to the birds, or water flowing somewhere. Sometimes, all we need is to fill what we hear with beauty, however we define it. Or try stillness, as that allows us to connect with our bodies and in the end that is what mindfulness is all about.


How Will You Eat Mindfully

There are many more concepts involved with mindful eating (like conditioning, and different ways to satisfy hungers- some of which include short meditations), but knowing about the eight hungers is essential to get started. I would recommend the book, the UCSD class, and or checking in with me or another coach to find out more about what you can do to start eating more mindfully. In the end, your relationship with food will be healthier, and as a result, you will be happier.

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