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What Kind of Hunger Is Driving You to Eat? Part 1: The Senses

Updated: Nov 19, 2021

Are you hungry? What are you hungry for – and why?

Most people don’t take a moment to consider these questions, and instead just grab the closest food and eat when they feel hungry.

Mindful eating experts came up with an answer to these questions by identifying seven types of hunger. By recognizing and acknowledging the reason behind your desire to eat, it can complement getting in touch with your hunger and satiety cues to better recognize when to eat – and when to pass.

Much of what I’m about to discuss I’ve adapted from Jan Chozen Bays’ book Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food as well as other mindful eating resources. I will share more mindful eating resources in the conclusion of this three-part series, so stay tuned!

Why Does The Type of Hunger Matter?

Why does it matter what hunger is driving your desire to eat something? For many struggling with their relationship with food, it can provide valuable insight in the journey towards developing more positive eating behaviors and a better relationship with food – one that ultimately nourishes you mind, body, and soul and goes beyond whether something is good or bad or the guilt many people have about their eating behaviors.

It can be a difficult journey to get to that place, one that involves much more than simply recognizing the hunger driving the desire to eat. But many find recognizing and categorizing it invaluable in the work to reach their ultimate health and wellness goals.

So, what are the seven types of hunger? Depending on the source, they may differ, but in mindful eating, they typically include:

  • Eye

  • Nose

  • Mouth

  • Stomach

  • Cellular

  • Mind

  • Heart

Let’s start by focusing on the senses and how they drive what and when we eat, as well as the desire behind wanting to consume a certain food.

Eye Hunger

You are probably really familiar with eye hunger, even if you do not have a name for it.

Imagine you are stuffed full and have absolutely NO appetite. Maybe you aren’t that full, but you aren’t feeling any of the tell-tale signs of hunger yet. Then, you see a delicious, gorgeous, yummy food. Maybe it’s a picture or advertisement, maybe you are in a restaurant and they bring out the dessert menu, or perhaps you are at a friend’s house and they show you their latest culinary sensation. Perhaps the picture above made you want some cake, I know it did for me!

Whatever the situation, you see this lovely food and all of a sudden, you are salivating and ready to eat more.

This is eye hunger.

Eye hunger can go a bit beyond just seeing something and wanting to eat it. Ever heard the saying “my eyes were bigger than my stomach.”

Most likely you have, and that also goes hand in hand with eye hunger. You pile food on a plate at a buffet, and even if you decide not to consume the whole thing, you still eat more than your body wants. The eyes beat out your stomach capacity, leaving you with that too-full feeling.

Several studies have looked at portion size, including the influence of visual perception of portion size, and have found that people will eat more or less depending on the serving plates or whether they are given a small, medium, or large size.

One really interesting study that Bays references in her book that looked at the influence of vision on eating was set up like this: one group of people were unknowingly given a soup bowel that automatically refilled, becoming an endless soup bowl. Another group had a regular soup bowl. After 20 minutes, those eating with the bottomless soup bowl had no idea that their bowl was continuously refilling. They estimated that they had consumed similar calories to the rest of the group, even though on average, they ate 73 percent more food.

Our perception can play a big role in eating, especially if we are not in tuned to what we are filling or mindfully attune as we eat. The eyes can lie.

So, what can you do? As with many things, awareness is the first step towards change. Start to recognize how much appearance influences your thoughts about food. And at a time where you are safe from falling under their spell, look at food ads, either in print or online, and see how they influence you. Are you all of a sudden craving the food?

Do this a few different times of the day. Are you more influenced when you are physically hungry (which we’ll talk about more)? When you are with other people? When you are in different environments or what you have already eaten today?

I am just as susceptible to eye hunger as the rest of you. I find that sometimes when I’m hungry, I will see a commercial for some food that I know I don’t like but the ad will be done in such a way that I’m attracted to the food and kind of want it by the end. These people get paid millions to convince us we want to eat something…and it can be effective!

What else can you do to help with your eye hunger? Start creating beautiful meals for yourself when you can that feature the foods you want to eat and that make you feel good. Take a stab at making a beautiful presentation out of your food, similar to what you see in restaurants or on TV. Perhaps you actually take out your fancy china on non-holiday occasions.

You can also satisfy the beauty your eyes crave through enjoying art, nature, and other places that feed your eyes.

Lastly, indulge in beautiful, yummy foods when appropriate for you and your situation.

Nose Hunger

Nose hunger: when you smell something good, and all of a sudden, there goes your stomach rumbling and your mouth salivating, wanting the food.

This can be even stronger when you are really hungry. I know for me, that is when I’m most vulnerable to nose hunger. Personally, I don’t eat red meat because I don’t like the taste nor how it makes me feel. But, from time to time when I am really tired and physically exhausted, maybe I’ve been out all day walking around in a museum or did a long run, I’ll be next to someone who has ordered a hamburger or steak, and all of a sudden, I want some after having a whiff of the smell.

I don’t succumb to this nose hunger because I’ve learned that it’s not what I really want to make myself feel good. It has taken time to learn these things, and there are still situations where nose hunger wins out even with my recognition of its power.

Nose hunger can also connect with emotions, as smells can be a powerful trigger of memory. Add to the mix the idea that smell actually impacts taste – just think about how food tastes when you have a cold. Not nearly as good!

So, what do you do? As with all of this, awareness is the first step. Start to recognize how smells trigger you – and which ones are strongest for you. Why do they have such power over you? As with eye hunger, find ways to nourish your smell senses with the foods you do eat.

You can also try to enjoy the SMELL of tantalizing food without eating it. I’m not saying don't ever eat it but try from time to time to simply just enjoy the smell – especially once you find that you are more easily able to withstand temptation. Maybe wonder by the Auntie Anne’s at the mall, sit at the local bakery, hang out at Starbucks for a bit, or find some other fragrant restaurant/café/food source and just simply enjoy the smell. Give your nose hunger some satiety the same way you do with your stomach.

When the opportunity is right, when it satisfies more than just your nose hunger and does not trigger anything, then indulge in actually eating the food. But first, take a moment to smell it and take it all in before you consume it. You may just find it tastes even better.

You can also just indulge your smelling sense with other smells as well, such as meditating with different palatable scents.

Mouth Hunger

So far, we’ve been talking about hungers that correspond with the obvious senses that relate to it, such as sight and the eyes and smell and the nose. But mouth hunger is a little different – it’s not just about taste. It is about the feel of food in the mouth as well – the texture, the temperature, how easy or difficult something is to chew and more.

Naturally, the taste also influences mouth hunger. Whether something is more sweet, salty, bitter, or umami impacts the experience of eating. The memory or assumption of how something will taste in the mouth also affects one’s desire to consume it.

Mouth hunger is very personal. Some people love certain tastes, textures, or types of food – such as the spicy feeling that comes with consuming peppers and other spicy foods – while others hate it.

So, how does mouth hunger influence how we eat – and how much – and whether we eat when we are full?

Well, taste can be a huge draw. However, taste can sometimes lessen as you eat. For example, the first few bites of a food can be more satisfying than later bites as you become more and more full.

The sense starts to dull upon repeated exposure – the same way that smells seem to go away, but it is actually that our nose becomes immune to the smell after time passes. This is known as sensory adaptation, and it is also why you don’t feel a ring or watch after wearing them for a long time.

Taste adaptation does not always happen, and sometimes, it is more to do with the inattention paid to eating rather than any physical waning of the senses themselves. If you are not fully attuned to the mouth pleasure or taste of eating something, you may leave unsatisfied, making you want to eat more.

Of course, sometimes, the taste – and memory of taste – inspires us to eat something and keep eating it. One way to help with this is to really pay attention to how something feels in your mouth. How it tastes. Slow down and enjoy each bite as you chew. See if you can notice as the taste starts to wane.

For awareness, start to learn the types of tastes, textures, and feels that you enjoy with foods – and which ones draw you in and starts to speak louder than some of the other senses and feelings.

Honorable Mention: Ear Hunger

Some people include a fourth sense: ear hunger. It works in the same way as the previous hungers we’ve discussed. This is when you hear a certain type of food, and it drives the desire to eat it. This typically incorporates harder foods, such as chips. Probably the most common ear hunger driver is popcorn. Think about a time where you were at the movies and heard the surrounding audience munching on their popcorn, and all of a sudden, you want some, too. That is ear hunger.

What do you do about it? You handle it similalry to your other senses. Acknowledge it, learn from it, find out to what sounds you are most susceptible, and nourish it when appropriate.

Join us as we continue the exploration of the different drivers for eating when we look at physical hunger, which you may think of as true hunger, in the second part of this series.

You may find the process to become more mindful and in tune with hunger cues and satiety difficult and want a guide on the journey. We may be able to help, so book a 30-minute discovery call to see if Sunshine Nutrition & Wellness is the right fit for you.

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