Within the 9 kinds of hunger, there is one, in my opinion, that is essential to explore further in order to take better care of ourselves; mind hunger.
Mind hunger is defined as when our thoughts govern the way we eat, telling us what and how much to eat and when.
The thoughts that form our mind hunger are conditioned by all the information we’ve gathered throughout our life –what we’ve read, what we’ve been told, the diets we’ve followed, the latest health trends, etc. As a result, we learn to choose our food based on all this information occupying our mind: number of calories, fat content, if it’s light, quick or slow-burning carbohydrates, organic or not, gluten, how the food was raised, etc.…
Mind hunger can also be formed from following black and white rules and concrete beliefs; “But if I eat this, this will happen… “, “OK, now I deserve to eat this!” etc.… Sound familiar?
It is true that mind hunger can be problematic, but it can also be helpful. It’s good to be aware of and use nutritional information to help us look after ourselves. But the question is – has it gotten out of control? Does it rule over our own confidence and trust in our body’s internal wisdom?
If you have dieted a lot throughout your life your mind hunger is most likely in overdrive, because diets are only based on following external rules. . .
WHAT MIND HUNGER FEELS LIKE
Personally, I am very aware of how my mind hunger makes me feel. It generates a feeling linked to self-doubt and my ability to choose, and ends up causing a great sense of unease within myself. I imagine it as a fly constantly circling around me, making background noises of voices saying “Yes, you can have this!” or “No, you shouldn’t!” or “Careful now, that’s too much”, blah, blah, blah. Yet the only thing it actually achieves is acting as a diversion and disconnection from the present moment and my internal wisdom.
As opposed to mind hunger, my internal wisdom is made up of all the signals and information from my eyes, ears, nose, mouth, stomach, cells and heart. When I allow myself to be taken over by my mind hunger, I end up shutting myself off from these bodily sensations and am unable to listen to and nurture my other types of hunger.
Before having discovered my mind hunger, I thought that I had never followed a diet in my life. However, as I started to explore this further, I realised that my way of eating was in fact being controlled by rules of what I “should or should not eat”. I then came to realise that it was exactly this that was preventing me from having a healthy relationship with food.
More often than not, people tell me how much they want to develop healthier habits and are clear about not wanting to continue dieting. Yet at some stage they find themselves in moments losing control of what they eat and continue to have this battle with food. This behaviour is most likely being caused by their mind hunger.
It’s evident that no matter how healthy your food may be, if your relationship with food is continuing to be determined by external rules governed by your mind hunger, as it was with me, you will likely end up suffering from the negative consequences of a diet; eating uncontrollably, severely depriving yourself, binging and maintaining this battling relationship with food.
I think the way in which Jan Chozen Bays explains the order of the different types of hunger is excellent; mind hunger comes before heart hunger.
This order is important to be aware of because the more our mind hunger denies ourselves from having certain foods, the more anxious we become. This restriction then leads us to becoming even more emotionally sensitive to these “prohibited foods”. Therefore, in the end our mind hunger ends up causing heart hunger; preventing us from being able to feel fully satisfied with food.
HOW CAN MIND HUNGER HELP ME TO TAKE CARE OF MYSELF?
As I have said, mind hunger is not the bad guy in the film; if we learn to listen to it, it can help us to look after ourselves. Personally, it helps me a lot. For example, when I know that I’m not going to eat for several hours, it tells me to eat a little more now so that I will stay fuller for longer and have enough energy until my next meal.
One exercise that I use to explore whether my mind hunger is helping me, is a technique based on mindfulness.
When we go to the supermarket to buy fruit, a banana for example, we first observe the bananas with curiosity, we notice what state they are in — the size, ripeness, damaged — and then decide whether we would like to buy them… or not, maybe you just take them all?
Well you can actually do the same with the thoughts associated with your mind hunger. You can make your decision by exploring which thoughts will help you nourish yourself and which ones won’t.
FIVE STEPS TO HELP YOU DECIDE
- Before eating, stop and observe the thoughts that are occupying your mind in that moment. Do certain external diet rules appear? Are you thinking about what you should and shouldn’t eat, the calories or the combination of foods on your plate?
- Ask yourself in what way will this thought help you nourish yourself. If I base my decision on this thought, will I truly feel satisfied or will I feel deprived?
- Connect with your bodily sensations and your level of hunger.
- Ask yourself honestly whether based on the level of hunger you detected in your bodily sensations, do you need food to nourish the body or is this mind hunger and you really need something else?
- With this new awareness you have a choice. Finally, decide whether you want to pay attention and act upon this thought or not.
At the beginning, you may find this exercise difficult, but you will see that as time goes on, little by little, it becomes easier to identify the thoughts that will help you nourish yourself when they are balanced with your awareness of your body’s wisdom. You will then be able to ignore those thoughts that are not helpful, and create more space to connect with the real needs of your body.
Learning to eat in this way, connected to our body and its internal signals is essential in order for us to really nourish and take care of ourselves. Once we are able to move beyond mind hunger, we begin to develop a friendly relationship with food; a relationship that is no longer dominated by strict rules and judgments, but instead is able to listen to our body’s physical needs and let us experience true satisfaction and pleasure while eating.
And you, do you think mind hunger, as it happened to me, dominates your choices with food?
Mireia Hurtado, Spain