Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, the founding Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, defines mindfulness as “paying attention to the present moment with intention, while letting go of judgment, as if your life depends on it.” This definition can apply to typical eating patterns by way of mindful eating.
To eat mindfully, one must evoke all five senses in order to increase awareness about the food or meal consumed. One must “pay attention to the present moment” he/she is having with food and not allow the mind to stray to how the food may or may not negatively affect the body by “letting go of judgment”.
Hunger plays a significant role in one’s ability to eat mindfully. Jan Chozen Bays, MD, outlines seven hungers worth exploring when practicing mindful eating in Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food. Try to explore some or all of these hungers the next time you want to have a mindful meal.
Eye Hunger – Notice colors, textures, shapes, arrangements, and what your eyes like about the food. How visually appealing is the food? The eye is so powerful that it can often convince the mind to override signals from the stomach and body.
Nose Hunger – Take in the scent of the food. Bring the food item to your nose and inhale deeply. Try to detect as many ingredients as you can. Smell can influence our subconscious mind dating back to hunting/gathering days when it was used to locate and identify food.
Mouth Hunger – This is related to the mouth’s desire for pleasurable sensations. Mouth hunger can vary from person to person based on genetics, cultural influences, conditioning, and much more. Notice the mouth’s desire for the food in front of you. Is the mouth signaling you to take a bite?
Stomach Hunger – This is the familiar sensation that most people recognize when they say “I am hungry!” Gnawing, emptiness, and constriction in the abdomen can all be common feelings of stomach hunger. Use caution while assessing stomach hunger. Anxiety may induce similar feelings in our stomach leading to misinterpretation.
Cellular/Body Hunger – Cell/body hunger is often the most difficult to assess. What is your body telling you? Cellular/body hunger may be manifested as symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, irritability, or fatigue. Often times, our body knows what we need more than our mind does. Also think about your hydration status while assessing cellular/body hunger. We may misinterpret our body asking us for water as our body asking us for food.
Mind Hunger – Mind hunger is based on thoughts. What is your knowledge about this food? What nutrients does this food provide? Does your body need these nutrients at this time? Often times, we lose connection with our body and rely on mind hunger to dictate our food choices.
Heart Hunger – Hunger for certain foods may arise from a desire to be loved/cared for. Food may have a strong connection to memories or people. These can often be categorized as “comfort foods.” Often we may eat in an attempt to fill a hole in our heart rather than our stomach. Do any strong emotions/memories arise in presence of this food item?
About Katie Gustamachio: Katie is a registered dietitian and licensed dietitian/nutritionist practicing in Framingham, MA. She has practiced in several acute care facilities providing medical nutrition therapy for various disease states. More recently, she has developed her skills as an eating disorder dietitian at Walden Behavioral Care, where she engages in individual and group therapy with adults and adolescents.