Mouth hunger is the mouth’s desire for pleasurable sensations. What constitutes pleasant sensations in the mouth varies from person to person. I don’t like hot sauce. If food is fiery hot, my mouth is in such distress it can’t taste anything but HOT! If I’m eating Thai shrimp curry with mangoes it might as well be sautéed lumps of clay if it’s smothered in chilis. My husband, however loves hot sauces of all kinds. He says that the sensation of burning in his mouth enhances the flavors of food.
What your mouth experiences as pleasant depends upon factors such as genetics, food habits in our family of origin, cultural traditions, and conditioning, which means the association of certain food with other pleasant or unpleasant experiences. Strawberries and cream will have an entirely different appeal if you enjoyed them with a lover or if you had to eat them at Grandma’s house when you were carsick.
An example of a genetic factor in mouth hunger is the reaction of different people to the herb cilantro. Most people enjoy this green herb in Mexican or Asian food. However, about 10 percent of the population, usually people of European origin, find it revolting. They describe it as tasting like soap, unwashed hair, burned rubber, or crushed bugs. Some people’s mouths delight in cilantro, while other people’s mouths are dismayed. This appears to be a heritable trait.
What the mouth demands is partly dependent upon conditioning. The mouth can be trained to enjoy durian, termites, artificial cherry flavoring, and more or less sugar in juice. 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 word, if you want to have a Party in the Mouth, the mind has to be invited.
Try these exercises experiments to become more aware of Mouth Hunger!
- During the day, notice mouth hunger. How does the mouth signal you, “Please put something in here”? What are the sensations of mouth hunger? See if you can ask the mouth what it wants and why. Does it want something salty, sweet, sour, crunchy, or creamy?
- Before eating, with the food in front of you, pause. Look at the food and become aware of the mouth’s desire for food. Rate the mouth’s hunger on a scale of zero (no mouth hunger) to ten (my mouth is ready to consume anything).
- During the meal, pause every five minutes to assess mouth hunger. Does it change? Note: it is easier to keep track of mouth hunger if you are not doing anything else during the meal such as talking, reading, or watching TV.
- When the mouth seems hungry, look inward to see if the mouth could be thirsty instead of hungry. Even if your mouth says it’s hungry, you might try a drink of water, juice, or tea and see if the amount of mouth hunger changes.
- When you drink, try holding the liquid in your mouth and savoring it before swallowing.
In other words, don’t gulp. You can swish it around quietly as if rinsing your teeth, if that helps you to hold and taste each mouthful.
Bay, Jan C. Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food. Boston: Shambhala, 2009. Print.