Wouldn’t it be simple if we just ate when we were hungry. I remember doing baby led weaning when my children were little and being amazed at how they instinctively knew what and how much they needed to eat. This varied meal to meal and day to day, but over the course of the week I felt confident that they had eaten the right amount for their needs. They were prompted by their inner nutritionist, or gut instincts, they knew.
Unfortunately, as we get older these instincts get pushed down as food becomes more complicated. Instead of listening to what our body wants and needs, food becomes entangled with our thoughts and emotions. In clinic I see how the mass of restrictive diets and conflicting nutrition information is disconnecting clients from their body instincts; they don’t know what their body needs, only what they think they should eat. This is mind hunger, not body hunger.
What is mind hunger?
Mind hunger is what we think we should eat, based on our knowledge of food and nutrition. It comes from diet information that we take in and give our attention to, such as reading diet books, listening to nutrition podcasts, studying the latest research and headlines on food and listening to stories from friends and family about what they eat and their views.
Mind hunger is associated with absolutes and polarities, such as ‘good foods’ and ‘bad foods’ and foods to ‘completely avoid’ and foods that ‘everyone should eat’. The problem is two-fold. Firstly, it’s a very simplistic view that foods are either good or bad and leaves no room for individuality and common sense, and secondly diet fads and advice come and go, they are not absolute truths. For examples, eggs were off the menu for many years due to concerns about high cholesterol, but subsequent studies demonstrated that eating eggs does not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, so they became fashionable again.
What we think we should eat will therefore vary depending on what information we have received and hence different generations tend to have very different diet opinions. Today we are exposed to more diet information that ever before and this access to nutrition research has the power to transform our health. However, it is also causing immense confusion, fear and stress around food, disconnecting us from our bodies, and causing health problems.
Signs that you’re eating with mind hunger
If you spend much of your day thinking about what you’re going to eat, this is a sure sign that you’re eating with mind hunger. You will notice one or more of the following:
- You have very strict rules about what you should and should not eat
- You constantly follow new diet advice
- You feel stressed if you eat ‘the wrong’ food or not enough of ‘the right’ food
- You see food as functional and not joyful
- You feel disconnected from your body and your needs
Simple examples of mind hunger include the following thoughts:
- ‘I should have a daily green smoothie’
- ‘I should eat more protein’
- ‘I should not eat after 6pm’
- ‘I should avoid fruit as it’s high in sugar’
- ‘I should avoid carbohydrate-rich foods’
- ‘Breakfast is the most important meal of the day’
- ‘Everyone should intermittent fast and have their first meal at mid-day’
Problems associated with mind hunger
We all have thoughts and views on food, and mind hunger is only natural. However, if mind hunger grows then it can occupy a disproportionate amount of your time and begin to cause problems. These include:
- Feeling disconnected from what your body actually needs. This is because the mind can over-ride the body’s signals that tell you it may need something different. Over time this can cause considerable health problems.
- Sensing a lack of trust in your body and your own knowing on what food to eat. This might mean you feel overwhelmed and confused when not following strict diet rules.
- Experiencing food anxiety and stress, so you are not able to eat in calm state. This negatively impacts your digestion and ability to absorb nutrients.
- Noticing self-judgement and low self-worth when you eat something outside your diet ideology. It creates a sense of doing something wrong, which can unconsciously be translated as ‘being a bad person’.
- Seeing eating as a functional activity and not experiencing joy at mealtimes or in sharing food with other people.
Simple ways to reconnect to your gut instincts
Unless you have allergies and know that you must avoid certain foods, it is much more compassionate on our bodies to not get caught up in extremes and rigid mindsets. Instead we can try a diet theory and see how it feels in our body, so that our diet starts to unfold from within. There is then a two-way flow of information between the body and the mind.
The mind likes information and it constantly changes it’s mind. The best way to satisfy mind hunger is to first become aware of it and to question any ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ that begin to form. But ultimately the mind is only really satisfied when it’s quiet, as this is where overthinking and contradictory thoughts soften and can be held in awareness. Body-based meditation practices are an ideal tool to help you to drop out of your mind and into the knowledge of the body.
To start building your trust and communication with your gut instincts, try one or more of these simple daily exercises:
- Start your day by placing your hands on your abdomen and asking your body what type of food it wants. You may want to do this as part of a morning meditation, or simply before getting out of bed. Be patient and allow some time for an answer to arise.
- Before meals, place your hands on your abdomen, and rate how hungry you are on the scale of 1 to 10. Notice whether you are eating because you are hungry or because you think it’s the time you should be eating.
- Take a moment to look at the food on your plate and notice whether you enjoy the items on your plate and whether you feel like eating them today. It may be that you do, or you may notice that the foods on your plate are a result of what you think you should eat.
These simple but powerful steps can help you to start a dialogue with your body, so that eating can become deeply more nourishing and joyful. When you recognise how mind hunger shows-up in your day, you can begin to question it, pause and tune-in to your body, to see whether or not the thought is true for you in that moment. It’s a journey of self-discovery, that leads you back to the wisdom of your body and empowered health. If you’d like to learn our more about personalised nutrition with intuitive eating then contact me today and we can arrange a 15-minute discovery call.