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Know the Seven Kinds of Hunger


Mindful eating is not being concerned with what you eat; it is about bringing your awareness to how and why you eat. Then, eating is less likely to be a habitual response to certain sensations or triggers.

For instance, being aware of the source of our hunger is crucial because some hungers can only be satisfied by things other than food. In her book Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food, Dr. Bays identifies seven kinds of hunger. Only two of them can be met by consuming food.

Seven Types of Hunger

The seven types of hunger she describes include:

  1. Nose hunger: Created by certain smells and the flavors associated with them. For example, a whiff of pizza, popcorn at a movie theater, or the aroma coming from an open bakery door may trigger nose hunger, even in someone who just ate a satisfying meal.
  2. Eye hunger: Can prompt people to eat when their stomachs are full, or even stuffed. The sight of someone else's ice cream, pictures on a dessert menu, or a juicy looking burger on a billboard can stimulate eye hunger.
  3. Mouth hunger: A craving for the flavor and texture sensations that food provides. The mouth can feel deprived when nothing is stimulating the taste buds or meeting our desire for certain textures.
  4. Mind hunger: The result of thoughts such as "I need to eat a big lunch in case I don’t feel like cooking tonight,” or "I had a hard day at work and deserve a second piece of cake," or "I really have to eat less fat." Eating according to our thoughts means our eating is likely based on worry.
  5. Heart hunger: Involves those feelings of loneliness, emptiness or despair we all experience because we are human. Our heart is hungry for connection or some type of emotional nourishment, and we try to fill the hole with our favorite comfort foods or whatever is available.
  6. Stomach hunger: Can indicate it is time to refuel ourselves with food. It is important not to confuse stomach hunger with an anxious stomach, or a habit of eating just because it is noon, or the tension caused by a painful memory crossing our mind. One way to test stomach hunger is to delay eating and see whether the sensation passes.
  7. Cellular hunger: Occurs when the body is asking for the nutrients it needs to function well. If we practice exercising present moment awareness, we will increase our ability to know what types of foods our body wants.

Awareness Allows Choice

As you may have realized, the two types of hunger that can be satisfied with food are stomach and cellular hunger. Although we attempt to satisfy nose, eye, mouth, heart and mind hunger with food, it is not possible. By being mindful, we learn to observe hunger when it arises, determine its true source, and respond to it more often by choice than by reflex.

Source: Family Medicine, University of Wisconsin