Why Are You Hungry?

Why are you hungry?

What does healthy eating look like? In the famous words of Michael Pollan, “Eat Food, Not too Much, Mostly Plants.” Knowing what to eat doesn’t need to be more complicated than that, right? So why in the US do we have a growing obesity epidemic? And why is the rate of Type 2 Diabetes continually rising?

The answer is, we are not paying attention. We aren’t paying attention to when we feel hungry or full, how we feel during and after we eat certain foods (I feel really sluggish after I eat a lot of pasta) and, most importantly, we are not paying attention to what we may be hungry for that has nothing to do with food–but we reach for food anyway.

What I am referring to is the difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger. Hunger is often defined as a craving or a need for a specific food nutrient. Often times we mistake emotional hunger for physical hunger. In our desire to be healthy, fit, and lose weight we need to be mindful of these two types of hunger and how to satisfy them. When we bring awareness to our different kinds of hunger, we have a choice in how we relate to our hunger.

Physical hunger is a sensation of emptiness in the belly, a light headed-ness, low blood sugar, a desire for food, or a sense of fatigue due to hunger.

Emotional hunger is the desire for something that may comfort or soothe an emotional feeling, but has nothing to do with physical hunger.

In order to get acquainted with physical hunger and fullness, I invite you to join me in the following exercise:

  • Allow yourself to find a comfortable sitting position. Close your eyes after you have read through this exercise.
  • While sitting, feel your body make contact with the floor, your chair, notice where your hands are resting.
  • Start to notice the rhythm of your breath. Begin to breathe slowly in and out through your belly.
  • Try placing one hand on your stomach and as you breathe in feel your stomach rise, as you breathe out, feel your stomach fall. Practice deep belly breathing for 1-3 minutes.
  • After a period of breathing, bring your awareness to the physical sensations of your belly. On a scale of 1-10, 1 being that you don’t feel any hunger and 10 being that you feel very hungry, ask yourself, “How hungry am I?” “What are the physical sensations that tell me if I’m hungry or not?” Try not to think about when the last time you ate or what time it is, but really listen to your body, not your mind.

Can you see how paying attention to your hunger first might inform you of when to eat, how much to eat, and most importantly what might feel the most nourishing for you at this time? You can continue to use this practice before and even during meals. As you are eating a meal, ask yourself “How hungry am I right now on a scale of 1-10? How full am I feeling?” This simple mindful practice can inform you in what you most need.

See if you can bring awareness to when you feel physical hunger and when you are experiencing emotional hunger. If you aren’t physically hungry, then you can tune into what you really need that feels nourishing and isn’t food.

These are some of the things on my nourishing list…

  • Taking a hike in nature
  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Calling a friend
  • Curling up with a book or my favorite blog
  • Singing

What is on your nourishing list? How do you pay attention to your hunger cues?