Food can be a source of immense pleasure and enjoyment, particularly if you take the time to savor each moment of eating through all of your senses. Contrasted with mindless or out-of-control eating (what food? who ate it? where did it go?), slowing down to engage in mindful eating of a food item can be a life-changing event. Literally. I’ve had workshop participants realize things about food that they’ve been eating all of their life, such as: “A raisin tastes like that?? Really?” And: “I don’t even like this food – why do I keep eating it?” Others have discovered, contrary to their expectations, that eating just one piece of a food item really was enough to satiate their hunger, particularly if they allowed themselves to fully experience their food. Who knew?
Over the weekend, I bought a mixed flat of berries from the Hollywood Farmers Market – and truly, this flat was a work of art. I wanted to savor these gorgeous berries AND frame their image on my office wall. The huge, luscious strawberries, the contrasting colors of red and golden raspberries, the deep purple beauty of blueberries fresh from the bush. Jan Chozen Bays, author of “Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food,” writes about the 7 kinds of hunger and teaches us how to recognize the type of hunger we are feeding when we turn to food. She includes eye hunger, nose hunger, mouth hunger, body or cellular hunger, stomach hunger, mind hunger, and heart hunger. For me, eye hunger is key…I’m just as enthusiastic about the sight of a well-prepared meal or an arrangement of fresh fruits and vegetables as I am about the taste and bodily satiation that comes from the act of eating itself. Today I found myself raving yet again to one of the farm vendors about their “medley bag” from earlier in the season – a delightful assortment of baby carrots, beets, potatoes, onions, and fresh herbs, ready to be thrown in the oven. Honestly, the vendor might have thought I was a little strange given my level of enthusiasm, but that bag of spring goodies was one of the most gorgeous things I’ve seen. As you might imagine, I can sometimes find myself seeking out food because of its visual appeal even if I don’t experience physical cues of hunger – information that is useful as I attend to such cravings and respond to them, perhaps by paging through my cooking books or spending time in my garden instead (feeding eye hunger) or by eating a small piece of attractive food but allowing myself to savor it through the eyes before mindfully consuming it.
This Sunday, as part of our Breathe.Eat.Move Mindfulness workshop series, I’ll be leading participants through such an eating exercise, bringing awareness back to sensations in the body and exploring responses to food as well as the nature of our various kinds of hunger. For those that would like to try the 7 kinds of hunger exercise at home, I highly recommend Bays’ book, which is quite affordable and comes with a CD of guided mindful eating exercises. Or you might just sit and investigate (perhaps with a notepad or journal at your side) the next time you notice some sensation of hunger arise. I’d be curious to know what you discover!