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?
- Who needs willpower anyway?
- What did the Buddha know about addiction?
- “Eating Mindfully” by Susan Albers
- Mindful eating helps with lowering weight and reducing blood sugar
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.