Identifying Hungers: A Tool In Recovery (Part 1)

woman-smelling-orange-425x200A lot of what I work on with my clients, in their recovery, is mindful eating.  Mindful eating is simply being more aware of your eating habits in the present moment.  We may set intentions before our meals, and during the meal we participate in “noble silence”, which is simply a few moments of silence where we pay attention to the foods on our plate.  We observe the color, texture, and flavors.  We ask ourselves “What does this food make me feel?” “What is it doing for me in this moment?”  At first my clients are bothered by this practice, because it brings attention to the foods that they are so afraid of.  Instead of just shoveling the food in their mouths, or completely ignoring the food altogether, they have to acknowledge the food and their hunger.

One practice of mindful eating, that has been beneficial for my clients during their recovery, is recognizing and honoring the seven hungers.  “Seven hungers”, what do I mean? Mindful eating breaks down our emotional, visual, and other sensory responses to food in seven different hungers, only two of which are satisfied with the consumption of food.  By recognizing which hunger ails them, my clients are able to identify which emotions need attention, and cope in other ways that over, or under, consuming food for a sense of comfort.  These seven hungers include: eye hunger, nose hunger, mind hunger, mouth hunger, heart hunger, stomach hunger, and cellular hunger.

Eye Hunger

We have all been faced, at one time or another, with eye hunger.  It may have been at a restaurant, after a big, delicious meal.  You were sitting around talking to your friends, when the waiter comes up with the dessert tray.  “Oh, my goodness” you think to yourself, “I’m so full, I couldn’t possibly have room.  But look at the hot fudge dripping down the decadent layers in that Triple Chocolate Lava Cake. I think I might be able to fit it in”.  This is an example of eye hunger. Physically you are full, but the visual appeal draws you in and you’re hooked, regardless.

Advertisers use eye hunger to their advantage.  They utilize photographers that specialize in photographing food to maximize its allure to the eye.  Then these beautiful pictures are plastered on every magazine, billboard, and TV ad.  Our eyes see it, are attracted to it, and they send a signal to our mind, regardless of how you feel, that says, “That looks good, I’m hungry for that!” The eyes have managed to highjack the mind and override the signals from your stomach and body, even when you’re not hungry at all.  This is one way how we fall into overeating pass our nutrient needs.

So how do we satisfy the temptations of eye hunger?  Beauty! Think about it, if all that delicious food that you saw on a day-to-day basis was blended in a bowl of mush, it would probably not be so appealing and you wouldn’t think twice about it. It is the eye appeal, and the beauty of the foods that you see that convinces you to take in the extra food.  Therefore, nourishing eye hunger is as simple as taking a moment, and really look at something that is lovely, or at least interesting to look at for a few minutes.  The reason we have eye hunger is because we rush through our day without really appreciating the beauty all around us. We are craving beauty and need it satisfied.  Unfortunately, more often then not, we encounter food before we are able to take the time to remember to look around at the trees, flowers, and the beautiful human interactions around us.

Nose Hunger

This hunger type has a strong power over me.  I don’t know how many times I will not feel any ounce of hunger, but the minute I smell cinnamon roasted almonds at a hockey game or a craft show, I become ravenous.  The smell is so strong that all of my inhibitions are lost.  It’s like my kryptonite.  For you it may not be cinnamon roasted almonds, it may be freshly made pizza, or savory sent of bacon, but I am sure that you have experience the uncontrollable hunger at one point.

So why does smell have so much power? It’s actually quite interesting.  Our olfactory senses are short outgrowths from the brain.  What we call “taste” and “flavor” are almost entirely the smell of the food.  So before we are able to put any bit of food in our mouth, we are already able to taste it.  Once we taste it, we mentally want it.  Hence the drool that follows.

In order to satisfy nose hunger, we must take in fragrance.  If you’ve ever spent time at the perfume counter at your local department store, you might understand how this works.  At the counter you might sniff one scent, after another scent, after another, and it doesn’t take too long before the scents start blending together, overpowering your nose.  In order to avoid this, you need to take a whiff of coffee beans to break up the scents so your nose is clear to take it another.  This strong and different fragrance breaks the power of each scent.  Therefore, in order to satisfy your nose hunger, it may be helpful to take a whiff of another powerful scent, which is different and appealing to your senses.

Mouth Hunger

Do you need sensation in your life? When we are face with mouth hunger, there is some sensation that we are craving, or even struggling with.  Take for example when you might crave spicy foods.  “Do you crave intensity and living on the edge?” Or “are you afraid of boredom?” And when you are craving soft foods ask yourself, “what do you need to sink into to feel comfort?” “What do you need to do for yourself to feel loved and nurtured?” When you are craving crunchy foods, you might want to see “what is stressing you?” Ask yourself “what feels trampled upon or overwhelming?” There are also connections to salty foods, “where do you need more flow and openness in your life?” And sour foods; “what do you need to draw your attention to?” “Do you feel scattered?”

Therefore, mouth hunger is satisfied by sensation. The mouth needs variety, actually desires it.  It needs variety in flavors and textures.  This is where taking a moment and savoring each bite is so important.  If we are allowing ourselves to be aware of the sensations going on in our mouths, with each bite, our mouths begin to feel deprived and will convince your hand to continue feeding it more until it gets its fill.  When we eat more mindfully and aware, we are able to pay attention to the constant changes I the mouth that contributes to providing the variety that the mouth desires.

Mind Hunger

If you open up any “health” magazine, fitness magazine, watch any “health” television shows, or read any “health” article in the news, you are influencing your mind hunger.  Cookbooks and diet books also provide food for mind hunger.  Mind hunger comes from thoughts, like “I should eat more kale.” “I deserve that piece of cake.” “I should drink at least twelve glasses of water each day.” “Nuts and seeds are good for you. They have a lot of essential fatty acids.”  “Nuts and seeds are bad for you, because they are high in fat and calories.”

“Good” foods and “Bad” foods are always present in mind hunger.  Think about the history of food in our society.  Butter, for example, was pushed away with disgust once it was linked to heart disease, and was labeled a “bad” food.  Corn oil margarine was the savior to the loss of butter in our diets.  Margarine was seen as a “good” food, because it was linked to lower rates of heart attack and stroke, but research began to show its connection to cancer.  Butter was once again allowed back in our lives.  Mind hunger is confusing.  One moment we are told a food is “good” or “bad” and we changed our eating habits accordingly.

I’m not sure if there will ever be a way we can satisfy mind hunger, because of our constantly changing opinions about food.  My personal opinion, there are no “good” foods or “bad” foods, so in order to satisfy mind hunger, it is important to become fully educated in what is being portrayed in the media and what is fact.  Getting all of the information, and trusting that all foods provide us with the nutrients we need, can help our mind hunger.  When we are able to quiet the contradictory voices around our eating, and allow ourselves to be fully present as we eat, then we will be able to satisfy our mind hunger.

Since I could go on and on about each hunger, I think I will stop here for the moment.  I suggest reflecting on the hungers covered, and pay attention to how often and when each shows up for you. My next post will cover the last three hungers; heart, stomach, and cellular.  I hope the information presented is helpful, and you find it useful in building a better relationship with food.

If you would like to learn more about mindful eating, or the seven hungers, contact the Inner Door Center at 248-336-2868 for more information on our treatment programs or visit


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