The Seven HungersAlthough the author refers to the Hungers throughout, Chapter 2 describes the Seven Hungers in detail, and provides suggestions for ways to gain awareness of the Hungers’ influence on our food choices. The underlying lesson is that we need to stay in touch with all our senses and their role in shaping our feelings of hunger and what we desire to eat.
Eye Hunger. Even when we are not hunger, a beautiful display of desserts (or really good advertising) may well entice us to eat something in spite of the fact that our stomach is already full. ”People generally decide how much of a given food they will eat based upon feedback from the eyes.” You may have read about studies that tested a bottomless soup bowl, which refilled continuously. People continued to eat (73% more!) without realizing what they were doing. We can turn this to advantage by selecting smaller dishes and utensils. In another interesting twist on this, Bays suggests that we may experience eye hunger because we have beauty missing from our lives in some way. Therefore, it is possible to feed eye hunger through beauty … but without eating. In addition, consistent with the mindful theme, she says ”This habit, of not really looking, of skimming our eyes over the surfaces of things, leaves us hungry and lonely in a fundamental way. When we stop and look with awareness, we connect. A brief connection like this can lift our mood, feeding our heart for hours.” (p.24)
Nose Hunger. Humans can distinguish over ten thousand smells, and that plays a significant role in influencing our food cravings and choices.
Mouth Hunger. Our ability to distinguish tastes is limited to five “flavors” – sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and amino acids. The only other major characteristic of food that we can distinguish with our mouths is texture. Family history and culture also have a role in how we experience food in the mouth. Bays describes the ways in which the US food industry has made our snacks more salty, more sweet, more fatty … which is quite different from snack foods in places like Japan, which are much more mild. She said that “[t]raditional Japanese food has so little fat that you don’t need dishwashing soap. You can wash dishes in plain water.” (p.31) Her recommendation (again, back to the mindfulness theme) is as follows:
To truly experience “a party in the mouth,” we don’t need stronger flavoring but the presence of awareness. To satisfy the mouth’s hunger for sensation, it isn’t enough to put food into the mouth, chew it, and swallow it. If we want to feel satisfied as we eat, the mind has to be aware of what is occurring in the mouth. In other words, if you want to have a party in the mouth, the mind has to be invited. (p.31)In other words, the antedote to the extreme-ism of the food industry is to be more attentive, not to pass the salt! She goes on to say that “If we are not aware of what is happening in the mouth, the mouth feels chronically deprived and convinces the hand to keep feeding it more.” (p.33)
Stomach Hunger. People experience hunger in different ways. For some it’s a feeling of emptiness, for others it’s a constriction. Either way, the feelings are not pleasant! But in fact, the stomach’s growling is not an indication of hunger, but it simply the stomach communicating when it is expecting food. For example, people that don’t eat breakfast don’t experience their stomach grumbling in the morning. And after three days of fasting, the stomach is also quiet.Sometime anxiety can cause “our stomach to growl or grind. If we mistaken anxiety for stomach hunger, we may eat … [which] can start another vicious cycle. That is, when we are worried about something, our stomach signals distress, which we mistake for hunger, which leads us to eat.” (p.36) As a result of these and other factors, it may be hard to assess stomach hunger.
Cellular Hunger. Children instinctively know when and what kind of food they need. Bays shared a story about a young child that was brought to the hospital by his parents. They had been giving him distilled water, but due to the extreme heat he was not eating and was therefore lethargic. She brought him a bag of potato chips, which he began eating immediately – he was salt depleted from the distilled water. However, as we grow into adulthood and we are barraged by advertising and other influencers, we lose this awareness. The author says that learning to “listen to cellular hunger is the primary skill of mindful eating.” (p.39) We need to take the time to sit and be aware of what we are hungry for – not just when we sit down but throughout our meal.
Mind Hunger. Earlier I described how the prevalence of food science in the US popular press has affected how we think about our relationship to food. Mind hunger is based upon thoughts, many of them influenced by external factors like advertising, cookbooks, popular magazines. It often operates in absolutes or opposites, and it is the mind (not the nose or eye) that generates our anxiety around food. One piece of guidance is to be aware of situations when we say that we “should” or “should not” do something, as that is likely Mind Hunger at work. Bays says that ”The mind is truly content only when it becomes quiet. When the many and contradictory voices around eating are still, when the awareness function is dominant over the thinking function, then we can be fully present as we eat. When we are filled with awareness, we become filled with satisfaction.” (p.31)
Heart Hunger. Although I found that the description of the other six hungers resonated, this one was the most powerful for me. I don’t think I could really do it justice, so here is my favorite passage:Many people are aware that they eat in an attempt to fill a hole, not in the stomach but in the heart. We eat when we are lonely. We eat when a relationship ends. We eat when someone dies, taking food to the home of those who are grieving. These are the ways we try to take care of ourselves and others, but we must understand that food put into the stomach will never ease the emptiness, the ache in a heart. (p.53)