The 7 Types of Hunger & How to Deal with Each

Article posted in: Diet & Nutrition

You walk into the mall and the smell of chocolate chip cookies hits you. Without another thought, you beeline to the kiosk and seconds later—you’re eating a cookie. Sound familiar? That’s “Nose Hunger,” says Jan Chozen Bays M.D., author of Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food. It’s just one of seven kinds of hunger that we experience on a daily basis.

These “hungers” occur as sensations, thoughts and even emotions within our bodies, minds and hearts, says Bays. When our senses are activated by food – even if we’re not truly hungry – we respond by putting food in our mouths. In order to not be fooled, Bays suggests we need to become aware of what urges us to eat and why.

Here are the seven daily hunger sensations and how you can overcome them:

1. Eye Hunger

Our eyes have the power to convince the mind to override signals from the stomach and body that we’re full. Enter the restaurant dessert tray or the soft pretzel stand at a baseball game. Further, Bays says people generally decide how much of a given food they will eat based upon feedback from the eyes. Bays points to a research study explained in Brian Wansink’s book, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. When given a large bucket of popcorn, people dipped in 21 more times and ate 173 more calories than people with medium-sized buckets.

How to beat it: Beauty satisfies eye hunger. In everyday situations when you’re tempted by food, try feeding your eye hunger with something else that’s interesting or beautiful: a painting, other people at the restaurant or leaves on a tree outside. You may be surprised to find your “hunger” has abated.

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2. Nose Hunger

Whether it’s because the olfactory nerves are short outgrowths from the brain or because our ancestors relied on smell to find food and determine its safety, Bays says our noses are always on the hunt. (Remember that cookie you smelled – then ate – at the mall?) Because we’re surrounded by food in places besides restaurants, like work, at home and even when we sit outside, the brain is constantly being “convinced” to eat.

How to beat it: Fragrance feeds nose hunger, says Bays. To satisfy it, try this: Before eating, bring your plate to your nose and inhale deeply. Try to smell as many individual ingredients in your food as you can. As you eat, continue to be aware of the aroma (or flavor). Afterwards, sit and notice how long you can taste the food. If you decided not to take another bite until you could no longer taste the food you just swallowed, how long might that take? And would you still be hungry then?

3. Mouth Hunger

Mouth hunger is the mouth’s desire for pleasurable sensations, says Bays. Pleasure is determined by genetics, culture and conditioning. Some people love hot foods; others don’t. Some love cilantro, while others can’t stand it. The mouth desires variety in flavor and texture and has trouble “staying present” as foods lose flavor and become mushy. That’s part of the reason snack-food manufacturers are so successful – the cheesier, the crunchier, the more complex the flavor, the happier our mouths are. Unless we stop to consider that the mouth is bored, we entertain it by eating.

How to beat it: Excitement feeds mouth hunger. The next time you’ve got the munchies, try to ask the mouth what it wants – something salty, sweet, crunchy or creamy. Before you eat, pause to assess your hunger. During the “meal,” pause to see if your mouth is satisfied. Do you need to keep eating?

4. Stomach Hunger

Believe it or not, the stomach does not tell us when it’s hungry. We tell the stomach when to be hungry, says Bays. When we eat three meals a day, our stomachs will growl if they’re not fed on schedule. It’s important to listen to when the whole body is actually hungry and not eat just because it’s “time” to eat. Further, we also must learn to differentiate between actual hunger and confusing feelings like gastroesophageal reflux (heartburn) and anxiety. Often, we eat to quell these feelings of unrest and it only exacerbates the problem.

How to beat it: Be aware of how your stomach feels during the day. What signals hunger? How does the stomach feel when it’s full? When you think you feel hungry, delay eating so you can truly assess if you’re hungry or if you’re dealing with another issue, like stress or boredom.

The next time you sit down to eat, take a second to assess your hunger. After four or five bites, reassess. Stop eating when your stomach feels comfortably full. It’s easier to tell when you’re full when you slow down instead of mindlessly eating the contents of your plate.

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 5. Cellular Hunger

Babies know exactly when they need to eat and when they’re full. Small children know exactly what kinds of foods their bodies need if they’re dehydrated, salt depleted or deficient in a certain mineral. Yet as we grow, we get conflicting messages from parents, peers, the media, advertisers and mirrors, then we tune out the needs of our bodies, says Bays. Through mindfulness, we can separate what the body needs from what the mind demands.

How to beat it: The essential elements – water, salt, protein, fat, carbohydrates, minerals vitamins and elements like iron or zinc – satisfy cellular hunger. When we’re ill, the body often sends clear messages (cravings) for what it needs, says Bays. Listen for those messages the next time you’re not feeling well. Keep listening after you feel better.

Sometimes we interpret hunger as cellular thirst. Before snacking, try drinking water or a hot beverage. Reassess your “hunger” to see if your need is still there.

6. Mind Hunger

Mind hunger is influenced by what hear, read and see. It’s often based on opposites: Good food versus bad food; should eat versus should not eat. “The mind thinks the body would cooperate and eat perfectly if it could keep us informed about the truth, the scientific nutritional facts,” says Bays. In another Mindless Eating study, people were put into a room with all the food they could eat and a clock set for two hours. Overweight subjects ate more frequently based on what their mind told them about mealtime. Normal-weight subjects ate less often, relying on internal cues of hunger.

How to beat it: Become aware of what the mind tells you about hunger during the day. Is hunger “good” or “bad?” Mind hunger is difficult to satisfy because we constantly change our minds. One day dessert is fattening; the next, we deserve a treat. The mind feeds on information and gossip; it’s content when the mind is quiet. Meditating helps but just being aware that the mind is always ready to critique can help you turn down the volume.

 7. Heart Hunger

Mom’s chicken soup. Homemade apple pie. Ice cream. Food nourishes our body and soul and sometimes people eat in attempts to fill a hole in their heart, Bays says. We eat when we’re lonely, when someone dies, when words fail. Emotional eating can be the most difficult hunger to overcome and we must consider how we’re feeling before we snack or drink anything. Are we truly hungry or trying to self-soothe?

How to beat it: When you become aware of heart hunger, allow yourself to indulge but buy a very small portion and eat slowly. Imagine sending the love to your heart and enjoy the comfort it brings. No food can ever satisfy heart hunger. Instead, we must learn to nourish our hearts, says Bays. Talk to someone you love. Play with a child or pet. Exercise. Create something. Give a gift. Try eating slowly and being appreciative for what you have and all the people who had a hand in getting the food to your plate.

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