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Kinds of Hunger

When you are hungry, what part of you is calling out to be fed?

I read a very helpful book recently, Mindful Eating by Jan Chozen Bays, M.D. She discussed the different kinds of hunger, many of which have little to do with actual physical hunger.

See if you recognize any patterns from your own experience:

  • Eye Hunger (if it looks good you eat it, hungry or not)

  • Nose Hunger (delicious food smells entice you to eat – it’s all about stimulus, not real hunger)

  • Mouth Hunger (just want “something” to satisfy oral craving

  • Stomach Hunger (can be habitual, soothing or anxiety eating as well as a truly empty, hungry stomach)

  • Cellular Hunger (this is the deepest “real” hunger-your cells need nutrients)

  • Mind Hunger (based on fads, clock-time, “should and shouldn’t” rules)

  • Heart Hunger (buried emotion or loneliness, seeking fulfillment)

With this helpful understanding, we quickly realize that trying to satisfy all these different kinds of hunger by eating food is really rather…uncreative and off-target. Try some strategies that are better focused on satisfying these different urges. Enhance your daily meals with beauty (dishes, flowers, candles). Enjoy good smells without reflexive eating, and when you ARE eating, take time to really smell your delicious food. Also enjoy non-food fragrances that please you, such as essential oils or fresh flowers.

When you eat a meal, “invite your mind” by paying attention to the taste of healthy food in your mouth, and stop eating before you are completely full. Consider the role of thirst – we often mistake thirst for hunger. And don’t be afraid of letting yourself get good and hungry occasionally. Our primitive brain urges us to eat the second we have a minor twinge of hunger for fear there may be a shortage.

Eat nutrient-dense, real food. That is the best cure for “cravings” as it will satisfy your body at the cellular level.

And we all have tried to satisfy heart hunger with food–knowing that will never work. Feed your emotional needs with connection, intimacy and service to others. When you eat a meal, feed the heart by taking care in preparing and eating your food. We each deserve nourishment on a deep level.

Here’s an exercise to help you learn more about your own patterns of eating and the drivers behind careless eating.

  • When you feel hungry, rate your degree of hunger on a scale of 0-10 for each different kind of hunger

  • Learn more about “who” inside you is hungry and nourish that part of yourself appropriately. Stomach and cellular hunger are the only types to feed with food.

Use all of your senses to increase your enjoyment and satisfaction when you eat food. Mindful eating can help us understand the emotion behind certain foods and come to know ourselves more deeply. And, when we learn to eat only in response to “real” hunger, many aspects of our health will gradually come into balance, including better digestion, energy and appropriate weight.

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jen bredesen
jen bredesen
Apr 06, 2023

Love this take on different types of Hunger. Good food for thought. A main type I experience which I don't think is quite represented here is the low blood sugar type, which may be considered the cellular type. There's also a related type of "hunger" that I experience frequently on my work days, which is eating to prevent the low blood sugar crash, so stacking proteins & fats, basically. Curious if you would give this aspect of things its own type and any comments you'd offer.

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