Why am I eating this? This is a question very familiar to anyone working on controlling impulses of emotional eating. While we tend to find ourselves craving certain foods, we are not always aware of our reasons for feeling hungry. Dr. Chozen Bays, author of the book Mindful Eating, specifically writes about a theory that we have seven different types of hunger. Cultivating awareness around this theory may help an individual rediscover a healthy and joyful relationship with food that does not come from a place of emotional hunger. To grow an awareness around thoughtless hunger you have to first identify the type of hunger. The seven kinds of hunger are detailed below:
EYE: Desire for food that looks good. Food advertising, asking to see dessert menu when already full, taking large amounts of food rather than small portions, needing something because it looks so good. Strategy: Feed this hunger with beauty. Portion your plate so you are "designing" the aesthetic of your food. Neat little portions that fit on the plate without crowding all of the food together. OR Find something else to look at that is visually appealing- but not food. Focus on this object while taking a few slow deep breaths.
NOSE: Tasting food by smelling it and then wanting it. Smell is rooted deep in our subconscious for survival purposes- so it is strong! Fast food and bakery smells, coffee, craving foods even when you are not hungry but they smell so good. Nose hunger is powerful because most of what we call taste or flavor comes from smell. Strategy: Keep an essential oil or other non-food smell with you to distract you from food cravings. Next time you smell something you can't resist, pull out the fragrance and distract your nose from food. If cravings are very difficult, use a calming essential oil like lavender or citrus.
MOUTH: Food textures and sensations. Mouth hunger is most commonly mindless eating habits. Eating while doing something else or out of boredom. Crunching on chips or carrots while reading, snacking while working at computer, eating in the car on the way to work. Strategy: Stock up on flavorful tea or tea tree soaked toothpicks. When mouth hunger strikes, start chewling on the toothpicks or slowly sip your yummy tea. Really let the flavors sink in by holding each sip in your mouth so you can explore all of the different flavors. OR Chew your food until its liquid. Every bite can be completely chewed up in the mouth, which helps you slow down and aids in digestion.
STOMACH: Habitual eating signals our brains to tell our stomach when to feel hungry. Feeling hungry at the same time daily- or never hungry in the morning, Hunger pains tell us to start locating food, but today food is readily accessible so we commonly over feed in response to our habitual message. Our brains are programmed to tell the stomach when to alert the person to find food- so changing the message matters. Dehydration and anxiety can mimic these stomach hunger pains. Strategy: Drink a glass of water when first hunger sensations kick in. Listen to your stomach pain, but do not give in right away. Observe the time of day and if it is habitual. You may actually be hungry- but you may also be programming a pattern that kicks in, even if you ate out of routine that day and still feel your usual hunger.
CELLULAR: Cravings. Cravings are a direct line to what nutrients our bodies need- if we are in tune with our needs and stray from addictive foods. Loss of this proper signal starts young- with comfort foods on kid's menus that tell us what is good and guide us to beleive that other "healthier" foods are weird or gross. Craving salt, sugar, carbs or certain colored foods means something but we lose connection to what that is. Example: craving chocolate, salt, or crunch may be a sign of deficient magnesium. Respoding with chips, pretzels, or other chocolate will not give the body what is needed, so you stay hungry until you get nourishment. Responding to this craving with pumpkin seeds, sea salt, or raw cacao is going to nourish that craving and the deficiency- so you stop feeling hungry for that craving. Strategy: Hydrate before falling into the craving. When food shopping or at a restaurant- ask yourself what you want versus what you should eat. Then modify that craving. Example: craving fried chicken, opt for baked chiken or fish with a nutrient dense salad rich in fats like avocado, olive oil, or nuts and seeds.
MIND: Associations we have with foods. The stories we tell ourselves about food- hot dogs at baseball games, pizza for football games, wine with the ladies, butter is bad, eggs are too fattening.... Mind hunger is based on absolutes- but nothing in food is absolute. For example, calories do not tell us anything about the nutrient density of food and many of the highest calorie foods are the most nutrient dense! Strategy: Be your own advocate and do not eat something just because an article, celebrity, or health nut told you to do so. Often the advice skims over the reality that we all digest differently, so not all foods work for all people. OR Rather than labeling foods as "good" or "bad" ask yourself if this food will set you back on your goals or make you feel well after you eat it. Most people cannot process cold, raw veggies- so pay attention to how you feel after you eat.
HEART: Eating for emotional comfort. Eating really isn't about the food at all, but the mood or emotion that eating provokes. Longing for love, nurturing, companionship, stress relief, or escape. The bottom line though, cramming food into our stomach does not feed our heart. Eating creates a false sense of intimacy. Strategy: Ask yourself: What foods to I eat when I am sad or lonely? What am I feeling when I give in to cravings? What other senses can I use to feel more fulfilled? Smell? Sight? Soothing music or aromatherapy may help here. If this is a habitual pattern, start finding more ways to connect with others or participate in habits that help you feel more connected to other (volunteer, church, classes, regular walking/running/yoga partner....)
Self awareness is the tool for understanding why we eat when we do. If the upcoming holidays are creating anxiety about an emotional tendency towards eating, then asking yourself why you are eating is a great step in the direction of true hunger.