Mindfulness is the #1 food trend that will shape 2018 according to Forbes.[i] Being mindful at mealtimes and throughout the day is more than paying attention to the food we choose, prepare, and eat. It’s learning to recognize hunger in its various forms. It is being able to eat without being impacted by external influences and noticing—and respecting—fullness. It’s eating for enjoyment while nourishing our bodies.
Many of us have forgotten what true hunger feels like. Experts across the fields of mindfulness and behavioral sciences talk about several types of hunger. See if you recognize these in yourself:
- Visual Hunger. We all have the natural desire or urge to look at food. Seeing crave-worthy food, physical or virtual (e.g., food porn) can make us want to eat, now!
- Nose Hunger. Our sense of smell is linked with taste. Smelling the cookies in the oven, or rotisserie chicken in the store, can trigger this hunger.
- Ear Hunger. The sounds of meal preparation can kick-start salivary glands – like the sound of bacon sizzling in the frying pan.
- Mouth Hunger. Food can taste good! And as one craving for flavor is satisfied, our mouth hunger can perk back up if we switch to new tastes.
- Stomach Hunger. When our tummies rumbles, it could mean there’s an absence of food there, but a growl can occur at any time on an empty or full stomach. The rumbling is from the muscular activity in the stomach and intestines and from gas moving around.
- Cellular Hunger. When our bodies need particular nutrients, there may be physical manifestations like a headache, fatigue, or irritability. Understanding this takes sensitivity and inner wisdom.
- Mind Hunger. Our minds are busy (and maybe stressed) thinking 60,000 thoughts per day! Learning to calm our minds helps quiet the mental chatter and allows us to tune into what our bodies need and want.
- Mindless Hunger. This is when we eat out of habit or are distracted and eat on autopilot: in front of a computer or phone screen, in front of the big screen at a movie, or maybe even outside at a ballpark.
- Emotional Hunger. Often, eating is linked to emotions. We may associate foods with treats from our past or think of them as offering a sense of relief from unpleasantness. We may have unmet emotional needs. At these times, we may turn to food for comfort and even develop habit loops around the cycle of discomfort and eating.
Mindfulness can help us identify these and choose the best way to satisfy them. When I want to ground myself in mindful presence, in the here and now, I do what I call an ABC check-in. It is a simple, effective method for identifying your hunger type. This is how you do it:
- Attention: Focus your awareness on the present moment.
- Breathe: Take a few deep, conscious breaths to center the mind and move from your mental narrative to calmly and directly experience life as it is.
- Curiosity: Become actively curious about what is happening in your body, heart and surroundings. Being an engaged, nonjudgmental observer of what you are experiencing, like a scientist gathering data, will increase your perceptiveness.
ABC check-ins are a powerful way to become aware of your hunger and intentionally decide how to satisfy it.
For example, noticing which emotion you’re experiencing can help identify alternate activities if what’s hungry is your heart, not your body. True hunger builds slowly and can be satisfied by healthy choices like apples and carrots. If your desire for food comes on quickly and only a pint of ice cream will do, you are likely not experiencing physiological hunger.
Personally, much of my hunger used to be mindless, before becoming mindful of consumption of tech, media and food.
Try an ABC check-in next time you feel like eating to connect your mind and body become conscious of what is driving your hunger. You may be surprised at what you discover!
Heather Sears is the author of the award-winning book Mind to Mouth: A Busy Chick’s Guide to Mindful Mealtime Moments. (Download a free book excerpt.) She is an accomplished marketing executive and founder of Kensho Kitchen.
Heather has a BA with high honors from University of Michigan and a MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. She volunteers teaching mindfulness and meditation in Boston where she lives with her husband and son.