On practicing mindfulness of hunger


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We all know about mindful eating: Don’t do anything else, like reading or watching TV. Take your time, really experience the sensations of lifting food to your mouth, putting it inside, chewing, swallowing. Notice the thoughts and feelings you have.

I have to confess I don’t do it very often. Last week I only really ate mindfully twice, and that’s because we undertook to eat mindfully at least twice as part of a meditation class. And it was actually quite hard to restrain myself from reading while eating. It’s quite a powerful habit!

But an interesting thing I’ve been doing over the last couple of weeks is being mindful of hunger.

I’ve noticed some things.

I find it easier to practice mindfulness of hunger than mindfulness of eating — perhaps because mindfulness of hunger is a new thing?

Also see:

Sometimes when I think I’m hungry, I’m not. It’s just craving.

Television is a trigger for fake hunger. (I don’t actually have a TV, but I watch shows on Netflix on my laptop.) In particular, the theme tunes of TV programs induce craving — that desire to rush to the fridge to see if there’s something I can snack on.

If I simply pay attention to this craving, it’s manageable, and I can resist eating unnecessarily.

When it’s real hunger, I can mindfully pay attention to the sensations in the body.

When I’m mindful of my hunger, the sensations change. It’s less localized in the stomach and becomes a more general sensation throughout the abdomen.

When I feel real hunger, I tell myself, “This is how my body feels when it’s losing weight.” This also helps change the feeling-tone of the hunger. It ceases to be an unpleasant sensation. It’s just a sensation, like any other. If I tell myself, “This is the sensation of my body burning off fat,” I feel happy, because my brain now interprets the hunger as a good thing.

When I’m mindful of hunger, I don’t feel that I have to jump up immediately and eat something. It stops being a signal that something is “wrong” and needs immediate attention. It’s a bit more like the fuel gauge on a car pointing to 1/4 full — it’s a sign that I’m going to have to find fuel soon, but not necessarily right now.

Without mindfulness, my brain treats even mild hunger as if it were an emergency: “You have to eat right now!” It’s more like the scary feeling you get when the low fuel light comes on in your car, indicating that you should head straight to a gas station or you’re going to end up stranded by the roadside.

When I’m mindful of hunger, I can comfortably be with the hunger for an hour or so. Sometimes it even goes away for a period of time. When I’m unmindful, I want to get rid of the unpleasant sensations right away.

I’ve lost about 4 pounds (1.8 kg) in the last couple of weeks.

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12 Comments. Leave new

  • Much needed teaching here.

  • This is something I face on two levels. First, I tend to get hypoglycemic before I even feel hunger, so I have used mindfulness to sit with the sensations for a second or two, remind myself that it’s not a crisis, and nibble a few raw almonds to get myself right.
    I also struggle with this at night. I’ll be about to fall asleep and begin to feel hungry. It would come on in a panic, as if I were about to die of starvation if I didn’t eat. I used to give in and run to the frig for a snack, but lately have dug down and reminded myself that it’s normal to be a little hungry now and then, that I’ve had enough food during the day to ensure that I will survive the night, and that in the morning there will be plenty of delicious food to enjoy. I love mindfulness!!

  • What a brilliant idea! I don’t very often remember to be mindful while eating, but this slight change in focus – to hunger rather than eating – sounds far more effective anyway. I especially like “this is how my body feels when it’s losing weight.”

    Thank you!

  • Interesting stuff. I have recently been dieting and have lost 25lbs. In the process, what has interested me is becoming more comfortable with my body when it’s feeling hungry. I feel more ‘naked’ when hungry, more in touch with the vulnerability of being human. This is something that has scared me in the past, but eating less is enabling me to work with it.

  • The question one then asks themselves is, am I eating this to satisfy my hunger or am I eating this for the pleasure of it? A question that changes it from a need to a want. If one is mindfully aware of what the body needs, food then will be to satisfy hunger and not a craving or an indulgence.

    • I think it’s OK to eat something for pleasure, myself. This evening I was at a gathering where there were lots of desserts. I passed on eating any of the desserts in favor of being mindful of my hunger (and in fact I wasn’t at all hungry) but I decided to mindfully eat a single blueberry just before we left, just to enjoy the taste. I could see me doing that with an entire dessert if I actually did have some hunger present.

      For me, it’s not hunger versus pleasure that’s the problem, but hunger versus craving. And the craving is often an attempt to deal with some difficult emotion, such as loneliness or boredom.

  • I was just at a Wellness conference. One session was on Mindfulness. On the table in front of us was a box of raisins with a note attached, do not open until instructed. When it came time to open the box over half the room didn’t appear to see the note to not open as they had consumed their box. An interesting fact as the boxes were put down on the table with this note facing up. We then had to mindfully eat a raisin such as I had mindfully eaten the white chocolate mousse presented at lunch time. I haven’t eaten dessert in a very long time as I too have been on a journey to lose weight. One person commented on how much I was enjoying my mousse and did I ever make it last a long, long time. Mindful eating. Then the raisin. I don’t like raisins so to mindfully eat one was an experience. Not a negative one, an interesting one as I wasn’t focused on the taste but the experience of my other senses.

    • Thanks for sharing your story, Sharon.

      I’ve been continuing to pay mindful attention to hunger. Tonight I ate a delicious homemade burrito, and at the end of it I still felt hungry. I almost got as far as opening a cupboard to see if there was something I could snack on, and then I turned my attention back to the hunger and just accepted it as a sensation. A few minutes later, the hunger had passed.

      The same thing happened last night. I was cleaning up the kitchen before going to bed, and there was still some food to put away from dinner (home-made pizza). I came close to picking up a slice, and then realized I could just be mindfully hungry. And again, the sensations passed quite quickly.

      I assume that, in the past, I’d been treating hunger as an emergency that had to be dealt with immediately. Now it’s just a signal that I can choose to respond to, or not.

  • Yes, all channels of dukkha are at play when eating. It is a necessity and such a wonderful way to fuel our bodies, yet so much of our suffering is related to eating.

  • Thanks

  • Lisa A. Holliday
    January 8, 2018 9:36 pm

    I was so happy to see that this was written by you. I have used your guided meditations for years. Your Metta Bhavana opens my heart the moment I hear your voice. The reason I found this is I’m working with hunger too in a really interesting way. Actually going into meditation with it. Observing sensually, what color is it how big is that where can I find it who is feeling it what does it want. The reason I found this is I’m working with hunger to in a really interesting way. Actually going into meditation with it. Observing it sensually, how does it feel, what color is it, how big is it, where can I find it, who is feeling it, what does it want, What does it need.

    All with no motive to rid myself of it. And yet it transforms in the light of observation. The particle becomes a wave when measured by the bright light of awareness.

    It’s rather intimate. A little Sacred. And startling in its revelations.

    I haven’t over eaten in days.

    The thought grabbede that I should try to record the meditation and share it with others. Would love to send it to you so you could make it REALLY awesome.

    Sat Nam.



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