Ok so Part 2 of MIndful Eating. Yesterday we looked at mouth, nose, eye and stomach hunger; today we’re going to look at cellular, mind and heart hunger.
I’m not a big meat eater. Part of it is ethical reasons but mostly I’m just not into having a big slab of flesh on my plate. But hey that’s me!! Every now and though I get a craving for meat and no amount of lentils and beans is going to subdue it. What I’m describing is cellular hunger. It is my body telling me I need protein or iron or both. Meat contains all the 9 amino acids the body needs and like iron, protein from meat products is more easily absorbed. I’m not here to have the vegetarian discussion but simply to explain where these cravings come from. Hard core banana cravings could mean that your body needs potassium.
As children, we were exceptional at listening to cellular hunger, we intuitively knew what types and how much food we needed. Over the years though we lose this skill, through setting meal times and being told what we should eat. Jan Chozen-Bays says that learning to listen to cellular hunger is the primary skill of mindful eating.
Mind hunger is what brings most of us have trouble recognising. It is not real hunger but rather our brains rules and regulations about eating. Society today has made most of us anxious eaters. We are bombarded with what is deemed ‘good’ and ‘bad’ food and with each new fad diet eating becomes more complicated. Our whole lives we are told contradictory stories about food. Growing up we were encouraged to finish all the food on our plate then we are told that portions sizes are too big and we should always leave something behind. One day carbs are bad, the next they are good. I could go all day! Advertising makes us desire the food that we know is not good for us, so we are stuck in this limbo between temptation and guilt. It is know wonder there are so many disordered eaters out there. Mind hunger is also responsible for that throw in the towel reaction we have if we slip up in our diet, that “Oh I stuffed up by eating that cookie, I may as well finish the packet and start again tomorrow.”
The only way to combat mind hunger is to listen to cellular and stomach hunger, that is to develop skills of mindful eating. It’s a tricky one, but before giving into mind hunger, question it. Why do I feel this way about this food? Isn’t one cookie going to be much better than the whole packet?
Now for my personal favourite hunger. Heart hunger, the precursor for emotional eating!! So often when we eat we are not hungry, we are eating to comfort some emotion we are experiencing. Be it frustration, sadness, anxiety, boredom or even happiness. Sometimes we eat when we’re not sure what else to do. When life gets scary we seek comfort. When we were young and sick, our mother’s bought us lemonade. Now we are older we want that same comfort. Look at the popularity of the personal water bottle or how many of us carry a thermos of tea or coffee around all day. Heart hunger is our body seeking to either enhance or dampen our emotions. The problem with doing this with food is that our mind’s relationship with food has been through entirely different conditioning. What this means is that if we use chocolate to comfort us we may feel temporarily better, however, soon our brain tells us that chocolate is bad for us and we shouldn’t eat it. Suddenly we start to feel guilty and anxious about the consequences of what we ingested. Now on top of the emotion we were trying to comfort, we have anxiety and guilt…. cue the next block of chocolate.
There are times when we heart hunger is good, during a celebration or after a long day of hard work. The key is to acknowledge heart hunger for what it is and recognise which emotion you are soothing or feeding. If no alternatives will offer you the same comfort than eat, but try to eat slowly and mindfully. It may make you realise that 2 squares of chocolate can have the same effect as a whole block.
Time to Slow Down
Once we can start being mindful of which hungers are driving us, we can start to make better choices. The best and simplest, albeit often the most difficult way to become mindful while eating is to slow down. I’ve mentioned it a few times already but it is essential if you want to change your eating experience into a nurturing one you need to slow down the process. Savour eat bite. Take pleasure in all the tastes and textures each bite has to offer.
There is another important point to be made about mindful eating. That is accepting the fact that we can’t eat mindfully 100% of the time. Life happens, sometimes we are in a rush to get to work, other times food is needed for sustenance between long meetings or travel. This is ok. But before inhaling that sandwich or meat pie in 9.5 seconds, take a moment to acknowledge that you are about to eat mindlessly. This act of giving permission means that at other points through the day permission is not given to eat in this manner.
Learning to eat mindfully allows us to develop a relationship with our food that increases its enjoyment and our own self- nurturing.
Enjoy your next meal! Make sure to take time to taste, savour and experience each bite.