In my previous post I mentioned Dr. Chozen Bay’s seven kinds of hunger. I’ve charted a “hunger scale” that I use to weigh up how hungry I am and what kinds of hunger are involved in my decision to put something in my mouth. On a scale of 1-10 (1 being the least hungry and 10 the most) I check to see what hungers are nudging me – eye, nose, mouth, stomach, cellular, mind or heart.
Hunger Scale 1 to 10 (1 = least hungry, 10 = most hungry)
The numbers in the above table indicate my seven hungers for breakfast on my first day of eating with intent and awareness. Breakfast, for me, is pretty predictable and not what most would perceive as exciting. My daughter and son charmingly call it “old people food.” It’s good ole bran flakes with a sprinkling of Harvest Crunch granola bathed in half a cup of 2% milk.
EYE HUNGER On the surface of things, to the eye, the bowl of bran flakes admittedly looks just meh. But when I mindfully study what’s in front of me, the place setting is pleasing to look at. Especially as I’m using for the first time one of the place mats that my friend, Cathy, in South Africa, sewed for me. This is one of six beautiful place mats of various tribal African women which you will see in future posts.
Before I decided to embark on this mindful eating journey, I used to eat my breakfast standing at the counter, checking email and social media on my iPad while waiting for the kettle to boil. None of my senses was engaged in my eating experience.
Now I try to approach what’s in my bowl or on my plate as if I’m seeing the food for the first time. Each bran flake although not uniform in shape, has a grainy, brown colour. Its surface is rough and speckled. Ah, is this what my grandmother meant by ‘roughage?’
I like the texture of this particular brand as it has just the right heft. What is also appealing to the eye is sitting by my dining room table and paying attention to the slow unfolding of spring through the window. When one is not in the present moment, you miss out so much on what to see, smell, taste, touch, etc. I’ve gained a new appreciation for the peaceful view from my window. I gave my eye hunger a score of 5 in comparison to food and setting that would really wow me, like feasting on seafood looking out onto the ocean.
NOSE HUNGER When I lean in to smell the cereal, the sweetness, especially coconut in the granola clusters, is strongly evident. In the background, the bran flakes and oats emit a faint, grainy smell. I try to determine the milk smell, but it is overpowered by the granola. The aroma of the cereal takes me back to a moment in childhood, growing up with my grandmother. It elicits the pleasant emotion of comfort and nurture as I remember one particular incident when I was sick in bed and Mama brought me my breakfast on a tray – a bowl of Post Toasties (cornflakes) sprinkled with sugar and bathed in warm milk. The smell of my cereal connects with my heart hunger taking me back to that time.
MOUTH HUNGER The score for mouth hunger, for the most part, has been around 6-8 although some mornings I’m hungrier than others. I raise my spoon slowly to my mouth feeling the rough cluster of granola contrasted with flakes of bran softened by the milk that brings a coolness to my tongue. I can hear my molars do a great crunching job, the sound also enjoyed by the other components of the hunger experience. I count how many chews it takes to eat one spoon of cereal. Thirty six chews till my mouth is clear and ready for the next spoonful. It’s taken me twelve minutes to consume the contents of my bowl.
Now only milk is left and I almost flip into default wanting to drink the milk from the rim of the bowl, but I catch myself. I focus my attention on how the milk tastes as I bring each spoonful into my mouth till the last one. It’s taken on the lingering sweetness of the granola. My tongue deftly swabs over my teeth and gums to clear away remaining bits of masticated cereal while my mind registers the bits of desiccated coconut. I love the sensual smell and taste of coconut.
STOMACH HUNGER is at 8 on the Hunger Scale. My tummy is grateful for the healthy cereal and milk that are easier to digest than, say, bacon and eggs. It’s never happy with greasy food for it’s first meal of the day.
CELLULAR HUNGER works in tandem with stomach hunger because if the stomach receives healthy food, it benefits and nourishes the cells. My cells are grateful for the good carbs of the oats and bran, as well as the protein and calcium in the milk.
MIND HUNGER The workings of the mind are very strange indeed. There’s constant chatter going on in the brain – especially mine.
“You shouldn’t eat that tub of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream.”
“Yeah I know, I’ll go on a diet on Monday. What the heck this feels so good. Sin in haste, repent in leisure, ha ha ha!”
Afterward, the bugger heaps a pile of guilt on me like a stack of pancakes drowning in syrup. My mind and I have spent close to sixty years living in conflict.
Dr. Chozen Bay writes, “The mind is truly content when it becomes quiet…When the awareness function is dominant over the thinking function, then we can be fully present as we eat. When we are filled with awareness, we become filled with satisfaction.” I can attest to this as I endeavor to continue this practice.
HEART HUNGER As I mentioned under the nose hunger heading, the nose and heart formed an emotional connection to the childhood memory of feeling comforted and nurtured by my grandma.
However, for most of my adult years my heart hunger was off the scale and my relationship with food was sorely unbalanced. Of course, I was unaware that my emotional eating episodes stemmed from a malnourished heart hunger rooted in unresolved personal conflicts. Depression demanded that I feed the starving heart with food – sweet, sugary content, that sent me into the abyss after the sugar buzz wore off. My mind liked to play silly games. Again, to quote Dr. Chozen Bay, “Food is food. The rest is mind games.” Once I informed the mind about the different kinds of hunger, we could get a better perspective on things.
I am also educating my mind that heart hunger cannot be filled with food. I am learning to satisfy the heart’s need of emotional nourishment through my own intuitive wisdom and cultivation of a deeper awareness of my relationship with matter around me. Meaning that I am ‘seeing’ in a different way as though I’m seeing say, the sky, a tree, flower or piece of fruit for the first time, really engaging with each in the present moment. In eating mindfully, I find myself not only eating slower but also eating less, because I’m not eating unnecessarily. Practicing mindfulness in all aspects of my life, including the act of eating, is helping me to live a more balanced and stress-reduced life. And as Martha Stewart used to say on her TV show, “It’s a good thing.”