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Decoding Your Hunger: What Your Cravings Are Trying To Tell You

Kimberly Evans, M.S., R.D.
Registered Dietitian By Kimberly Evans, M.S., R.D.
Registered Dietitian
Kimberly Evans, M.S., R.D., has been a registered dietitian for 27 years and co-owner of Whole Health Nutrition in Burlington, Vermont.
Decoding Your Hunger: What Your Cravings Are Trying To Tell You

The food that you choose to eat can reveal a great deal about what you desire at a core level. Understanding your appetite means thinking outside the box to decode your hunger through mindful eating practices.

Mindful eating is eating with intention — the intention of exploring your relationship with food, and of being grateful for and savoring your food. Eating with intention can also help you understand your appetite.

Appetite can be likened to cravings or a strong desire for a particular food or beverage, but particular cravings can also reveal your appetite for something that's not food at all.

From my experience, our bodies are home to seven different types of hungers. These hungers can influence what you eat, but they also communicate parts of the self that need to be satisfied in non-food ways.

Take a moment here to think about what stimulates your hunger. What are your triggers? Do emotions and your senses drive you to go into the cabinet to look for a snack? Does something missing in your life end up getting fulfilled on your plate?

Your experiences with hunger are unique to you, but you may notice that some of your appetites are related to one of seven hungers:

1. Eye

Ever notice a craving after you've been scrolling through a food blogger's Instagram account? We are stimulated by sight — beautiful colors, textures, shapes, and presentation trigger our hunger.

To be truly satisfied by eye hunger we must feast our eyes on the food before we can enjoy it. Try looking at each bite of food as you put it onto your fork or spoon to fully appreciate what's in front of you.

We must also consider why our visual craving is so strong. What is it about the site of the beautiful fruit tart that makes us crave something that we didn't even think we wanted?

Maybe you're hungering for more color in your life or a general change of scenery. One way to satisfy this hunger is by simply appreciating the artfulness that graces the pastry case and moving on.


2. Nose

Smell seems to go right to the heart. Your grandmother's chicken soup, your mom’s apple pie — familiar smells can elicit a craving like nothing else.

Your nose is powerful, but don’t let it trick you into eating things you are not truly hungry for. If you smell something so good that you can't pass it up, make note of your desire for that food and allow yourself to eat it when you're actually hungry.

Be sure to breathe in the memory before it lands on your plate, then pause between each bite to take in the aromas of your meal.

3. Mouth

Certain flavors and/or mouth feel can have a truly satisfying quality … at least for the moment.

Consider your desire for sweet, salty, spicy, crunchy, smooth, cold, or hot food. And then consider your appetite for life. What are you truly craving? Is the desire for something crunchy a longing to release stored tension?

Or maybe there's a missing element of taste from a meal. Overly salty meals can lead to a craving for sugar, for example. Try to balance flavors of fat, acid, sweetness, and salt, which will leave your palate more satisfied.

4. Stomach

You may know this hunger by the grumbling sensation that occurs in your stomach. This is caused by the release of the hormone ghrelin in the stomach, which signals the brain that you're hungry.

We can often confuse this sensation with other feelings such as anxiety or boredom, so pay attention to your stomach’s cues.

Try assessing your hunger on a scale of 1 to 10 before you eat and then again halfway through the meal. You may notice that you've satisfied your hunger by only eating half of what's on your plate.

This simple mindful eating check-in can help you manage your weight naturally and easily. Eat when you're truly hungry and stop when you are just comfortably full.


5. Cellular

Listening to our cellular language is a difficult skill to master. When our cells are depleted of nutrients we may feel lightheaded, tired, irritable, weak, or dizzy.

Noticing cellular hunger can clue you in to some of your body's real needs.

Cells need a full spectrum of nutrients to do the work of running our bodies, so fill your plate with colorful plants, whole grains, nourishing fats, and simple protein. Notice whether you're craving a real, whole food (like a beet or a sweet potato), and honor your cellular appetite.

6. Mind

When our brains don't get enough to chew on in terms of mental activity, this might be where eating out of boredom comes in.

Slow down and take a few deep breaths. Without judgment, become aware of the thoughts and sensations you experience when you sit down to eat.

Take inventory of the day: how have your needs been met? What is your mind still wrestling with? Calm the anxious mind by mindfully eating, or not eating if the appetite is better satisfied by a good book or a rich conversation.


7. Heart

When I'm homesick and missing my family, I generally crave ice cream. Growing up, ice cream was a staple in my house, so now it's tied to satisfying my appetite for comfort.

“Comfort foods” are tied to an emotion, mainly the desire to be loved. We often emotionally eat to fill a hole that can’t often be filled by food.

Try to notice your emotions when you have an urge to snack; you may find that you can calm this craving by calling a family member, taking a hot bath, or just recognizing the hunger that exists.

Becoming aware of your seven hungers is a great way to begin a mindful eating practice. Challenge yourself to check in with your seven hungers at one snack or meal each day. Notice what your hungers may be telling you about your experience with the food in front of you or about your appetite for things that are not food at all.

Full plate, full life. Happy eating.

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