The first exercise of mindful eating teaches awareness of the seven types of hunger that stimulate the thought of consuming food.
Imagine you have just finished a nutritious and satisfying bowl of homemade soup, and are taking a 20-minute noon hour walk. You pass a billboard that has a photograph of a pizza with all your favourite toppings. The cheese glows. The pepperoni twinkles. The olives call up romantic images of a Tuscan hill town. You want some pizza. This is “eye hunger”.
You walk by the pizza shop on Canyon Street. The smell of baking crust wafts on to the street. Your stomach growls. This is “nose hunger”.
You imagine the taste of the pizza, mentally add up the calories in your soup and decide you can afford to eat just one slice. “Mouth hunger”. By now, your brain has completely forgotten that you’ve just eaten a satisfying nutritious lunch, and that you have no need for more food.
You check your watch. There’s time for one small slice of pizza. You’ll take the rest home for dinner. Inside the restaurant you place your order, and as you are waiting, you remember the good old days when you were a teen-ager and shared pizza and Pepsi with friends. “Heart hunger”.
You order a Pepsi to complement the pizza. Finally your order is ready. You chew and swallow your first bite and wash it down with Pepsi. Pleasure flows through your body and mind. Inspired by the perfect mix of sugar, fat and salt, you quickly polish off the first slice and reach for another, then another. “Fabricated hunger”.
You drink down the Pepsi to counteract the thirst caused by excess salt. “Cell hunger”.
All that sugar, salt and fat has left you feeling stuffed and slightly nauseated. You have satisfied your “stomach hunger”. Finally, you remember that you had just eaten a completely satisfying bowl of soup, and therefore had no real need for food. You leave five slices of pizza behind and walk to your next appointment. Your body transforms those unnecessary 500-700 calories into stored energy — belly fat.
If you had been applying the techniques of mindful eating, you would have recognized eye hunger the moment you saw the billboard image of the pizza, and chuckled when the thought of eating entered your mind. You would have labelled the urge to follow the aroma of baking crust into the shop as nose hunger and walked right past the restaurant. Within minutes, all thoughts of eating pizza would have dissolved into awareness of the promise of spring, your lightness of step and the sound of birdsong.
Mindful eating begins with consciously and intentionally assessing the roots of hunger before eating. If the hunger is based in an automatic conditioned response to sense stimulation, memory or emotion, mindfulness can help you notice and let go of the thought of eating. If the hunger is based in a true physiological need, then mindfulness can increase enjoyment of a nutritious meal or a healthy snack and let you know when you’ve had enough.
Kuya Minogue is resident teacher at Creston Zendo. This spring and summer, in cooperation with College of the Rockies, she is offering courses on Mindful Eating and on Mindfulness, Stress and Chronic Pain Management. For more information, call her at 250-428-6500.