Identifying Hungers: A Tool for Recovery (Part 2)


woman-smelling-orange-425x200So it’s been a week since my last post, which covered the first four hungers of mindful eating: eye hunger, nose hunger, mouth hunger, and mind hunger (Identifying Hungers: A Tool for Recovery Part 1).  Where you able to notice when those hungers presented themselves? What were you feeling at the time? Did you give in to the hunger, or were you mindful in satisfying those hungers in others ways than with food? It’s ok if this was challenging.  For most people it takes months to years in order to really master the act of mindful eating. Don’t give up if you found it challenging. With practice, recognizing which hungers are affecting you gets easier, and you will eventually be able to intuitively listen to your body and respond accordingly.  Mindful eating can actually become fun when you are able to learn to let go of the rigid structure that you have so closely followed, and trust that your body knows how to take care of its self, its up to you to listen.

For now lets continue exploring the “Seven Hungers” of mindful eating.  These last three hungers can be very powerful in recovery.  Heart hunger effects many people, and is about learning to find love within us instead of in food.  Stomach hunger and cellular hunger are the only two hungers that can actually be satisfied with food, and are important to listen throughout recovery.  Taking a moment before each meal, and even snack, to listen and acknowledge any emotions or feelings can be very helpful in recognizing these hungers.

Heart Hunger

Heart hunger is so huge for many of us. Emotional eating has become mainstream. There are books written solely on the subject. Jokes are made constantly in TV and movies, as we see the young girl, who was just dumped by the man of her dreams; sit down with a carton of ice cream in order to comfort her feelings of inadequacy.

We eat to fill the hole in our hearts.  We find ourselves eating when we are lonely. We find ourselves eating when someone has passed.  We find ourselves eating when a relationship ends. Food is used as a comfort to try to take care of us.  But the food we fill our stomachs with cannot fill that emptiness, or the ache in our hearts.

Identifying heart hunger has been helpful for some of my clients who struggle with binge eating disorder and bulimia. Many of the time the binge is induced by anxiety, or a sense of loneliness, and the best coping skill for them was food.  Once they were able to take a moment, acknowledge urge to binge, breath and identify that it’s heart hunger and not stomach hunger (we will cover later), they were able to figure other ways of coping with their emotions.  One client takes a walk with her dog, or will talk to her mother.  That intimacy, the act of nourishing her heart, is what satisfies her heart hunger.

For my clients who struggle with anorexia, it is helpful to acknowledge their heart hunger and allow themselves to fill the hole in their hearts.  Listening to heart hunger is a way for them to recognize that they do deserve love and that they do have self-worth.

You can satisfy this hunger in many other ways as well.  Treating yourself to something you love and allowing yourself to receive self-love through a bath or listening to your favorite music, are some examples that can help overcome those heart hungry cravings.

These next two hungers are the only two that are satisfied by the intake of food. Once explained it will make sense why it’s important to identify which hunger you are feeling in order to be mindful and maintain a healthy eating pattern.

Stomach Hunger

Do you get an empty feeling in your abdomen, one that demands to be filled? Or do you experience constricting sensation, as if your stomach is grinding food that isn’t there? These uncomfortable “hunger pangs” are natural signals that our bodies desire food.  If we didn’t have them we would probably die of starvation, because we wouldn’t ever know when we were hungry and that we should eat.  But here is where I’m going to throw a curve ball, our stomachs do not tell us when we must feed it, we actually tell our stomachs when to be hungry!  We train our stomachs to expect food at certain times based off our established eating patterns.  So, those of you who say that you’re not hungry at breakfast, and that is why you don’t eat breakfast, to an extent you are right.  But those who do eat breakfast are hungry, because they trained their stomachs to expect food at that time.  Once you start having breakfast on a regular basis, you too will get hungry because your stomachs will be trained to expect food in the morning. Plus it is always a good idea to have breakfast, since you are going about eight hours without eating, but I will save that for another blog post.

Cellular Hunger

Have you ever had the urge to eat Brussels sprouts when you were hungry, and you didn’t know why?  Ok, maybe that was a poor example.  How about peanut butter? Yes peanut butter is delicious, but sometimes our bodies crave it because they are low a certain nutrient that it provides. For example, peanut butter is a great source of vitamin E, a helpful antioxidant that helps support your immune system. Your body might crave peanut butter during a time of the year that puts our immune systems at risk.  This is an example of cellular hunger.  It’s like a built in alert system for our bodies to ensure that we are getting the nutrients that our bodies need. By the way, Brussels sprouts are a great source of vitamin K which helps strengthen our bones; so don’t be so quick to ignore that craving.

Believe it or not, as infants we were more in tuned to what these craving meant. We had an instinctive awareness of what and how much food our bodies needed.  It’s when we grow older that this instinct becomes cloudy from all of the voices and images telling us how and what we should eat. We become confused, and we are no longer able to the just eat what we need to. Returning to that healthy balanced relationship with food, can be difficult, and involves turning our awareness inward, and hearing what our body is telling us; such as those cravings that we can’t explain.  Cellular hunger is similar to intuitively eating, the only difference is that eating intuitively is being aware of what our bodies are telling us, and acknowledging that awareness. While cellular hunger is the signal that makes us aware.

Satisfying cellular hunger requires paying attention to those signals of “salad!” “water!” “Beef!”  Right now some signals might be stronger than others. Usually we notice them at times when we are already ill, but that is our bodies demanding that we are careful about what we put into them when they are vulnerable.  With practice, the signals that we are less likely notice, the ones that are less detrimental to our immediate health, will grow stronger.

Now, the next time you are feeling a sense of hunger, take a moment, breath, listen to what your body and emotions are telling you.  Try to recognize the hunger that is affecting you at that moment.  Remember the ways that were mentioned to satisfy each hunger, and practice feeding yourself not only physically but emotionally as well.  Be mindful and appreciate you!

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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