Last week, we reviewed some exciting research that showed a mindful eating program achieved similar beneficial results compared to an established diabetes self-care program in a group of adults with type 2 diabetes.   However, this has yet to answer the question how do you eat mindfully?


One place to start is with hunger.  According to pediatrician and mindful eating proponent Jan Chozen Bays  there are 7 types of hunger.  She reviews them in her book, “Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food”:


  1. Eye hunger:  Our eyes see an enticing food and send a message to our brain saying “We’re hungry for that!”  The eyes can convince the mind to override the signal from the stomach and body, even when they are not hungry.


  1. Nose hunger:  Our sense of smell is closely tied to our sense of taste, such that the ‘taste’ or ‘flavour’ of foods is nearly entirely the ‘smell’ of it.  Smells exert a potent effect on our subconscious mind.  You might be familiar with the intense aroma when you walk past the cinnamon bun store at the mall.  The powerful smell draws you in, and is nearly irresistible, even though you may not be hungry at the time.


  1. Mouth hunger:  Our mouth has a desire for pleasurable sensations such as different tastes and textures.  The mouth prefers variety in these sensations and can easily become bored. If we are not paying attention while eating, the mouth will not be satisfied, and will continue to ask for more food, which can cause mindless overeating.


  1. Stomach hunger:  When our stomach is hungry it can signal us with rumbling, growling or with an empty feeling in the abdomen.  If we are in the habit of eating several times daily, and we miss a meal, our stomach will alert us of its hunger.  Tuning in to stomach and other kinds of hunger can allow us to make a mindful decision about whether and how much to eat.


  1. Cellular hunger:  Our body can give us various signals when we experience cellular hunger such as faintness, dizziness, irritability, a sudden loss of energy, or strong desires for certain foods.  We are born with the ability to tune into these signals, in a balanced relationship with food and eating.  As we age, we tend to lose our ability to be aware of our cellular hunger and what our body needs.  This often occurs with the conflicting messages we receive from parents, peers, caregivers, advertisers, media, etc.


  1. Mind hunger:  This type of hunger is based on our thoughts, such as “I should drink 8 glasses of water daily; I deserve this piece of chocolate cake; I didn’t work out today, so I can’t have the lasagna for lunch”, etc.  The mind can hinder our ability to ‘listen’ to what the body needs (our internal hunger cues).


  1. Heart hunger:  This is based on our desire to be loved and cared for.  Think of all the foods we might associate with family traditions, happy times, comfort, and love.  Many people experience heart hunger and attempt to satisfy it with food (emotional eating), which, though sometimes helpful in the short term, cannot always fill the hole in our heart. 


We can eat mindfully by assessing each of the types of hunger whenever we have the desire to eat.  In Chozen-Bay’s book, there is a guided exercise: ‘Who is hungry in there?’ that is an excellent way to develop the skill of mindful eating.


In next week’s article, we’ll discuss mindless eating, and how to avoid this common obstacle to healthy eating.  


Check out to get more information, or contact dietitian Coleen Nolan for info on mindful eating programs being offered in the Halifax area:


Coleen Nolan, MSc, RD, CYI is a Halifax-based registered dietitian and yoga teacher.


Mindful Eating: The 7 Types of Hunger

by Coleen Nolan, RD

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© 2018 by The Dietitians Network of Nova Scotia.