The more we learn about the different aspects of hunger we sometimes mistakenly begin to think of “Mind Hunger” as something that is a problem.
Mind Hunger (as it’s come to be defined) is composed of thoughts about food and eating. For example:
- Numbers such as: “ One slice of cheddar cheese has 113 calories.”
- Facts such as: “One egg has more than your daily requirement of cholesterol.”
- Instructions such as: “ You have got to stick to your diet. Do not eat anything that contains white sugar or white flour!“
- Fears such as: “If you eat too much cholesterol you might have a stroke or heart attack.”
- Criticism: If your Inner Critic creeps in, the thoughts in your mind about food and eating can take a very unpleasant and even destructive turn, such as: “You broke your diet by eating a piece of your niece’s birthday cake — you’re a hopeless failure.”
When Mind Hunger takes charge, it can become a problem. This seems to happen when people lose connection to their internal sources of information about hunger and rely instead on external sources of control such as diets, calorie counting and frequent weight checks.
Minds like Information
Our minds “feed on” scientific and medical information. We like hearing about the latest research on healthy or unhealthy foods. However, that information is always changing. Eggs were ‘good’ during my childhood, but when I was studying nutrition they became ‘bad’ because they contain cholesterol. Now they’re labeled ‘good’ again, because they are an inexpensive source of protein and don’t actually raise serum cholesterol. When information about what is healthy changes, our minds can become chronically anxious about eating. And anxiety is not nourishing — not for our minds, bodies or hearts. Additionally, when we feel anxious, we may think we are hungry, since anxiety and hunger share many of the same physical and mental symptoms. We may feel anxious so we eat… then we feel more anxious for eating inappropriately… so we eat more… and on and on!
When our minds orient toward an external locus of control, it tends to pull us away from the valuable sources of wisdom within our own body. But this doesn’t mean that our minds should be ignored. Diabetics, for example, may be able to detect the sensations in the body that occur when their blood sugar drops — an aspect of what is sometimes called Cellular Hunger. Then it is essential that they listen to what their mind says about the sensations that signal hypoglycemia, and follow that advice: “We need to get some sugar into our body now to avoid problems!”
Our mind can also help us distinguish between real food and ‘food-like substances’, through intelligent reading of labels. Our mind could also point out that we are going to have a very busy afternoon, and it’s not a good idea to skip lunch, and also remind us that we can eat the first three bites mindfully, even if we have to eat the rest of lunch in a hurry.
Balancing Mind and Heart
Mindful eating is embedded in awareness. From overarching awareness we can check in to body sensations, assessing eye, nose, ear, touch, mouth, stomach and cellular hunger. We can check in with our mind to hear what it is saying, and also with our heart, for emotional cues related to hunger. Taking all this information into account, from awareness we can choose what to eat and how much to eat. Awareness brings choice, and choice brings freedom, freedom to enjoy the simple pleasure of nourishing ourselves.
Can you think of other examples of when your mind can be helpful as you shop, cook and eat mindfully?
As you practice assessing the nine hungers before eating, are you able to better balance what the mind says about food and eating with the physiologic cues that come from your body?