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Put mindfulness on the menu

By Debbie Pannowitz

How do you feel about a nice big serving of stale popcorn? I’m betting you might have some other preferences, but just for interest sake indulge yourself in this research finding.

Prof Brian Wansink from Cornell University has published a study on portion sizes and unconscious eating habits.[1] Under investigation was the eating behaviour of 158 movie goers who were randomly assigned to receive either a medium or large container of free popcorn, that was either fresh or stale. Participants in the study were then assessed for the amount of popcorn consumed and their perceptions of how it tasted. The results showed that the bigger the container, the more popcorn was consumed irrespective of being stale.

This tells us that if food is available it will probably be eaten, even if it is unpalatable, and that the amount provided is a key influencer on amount consumed. It may also mean that we are less able to make good food choices when we are distracted. That is where mindful eating comes in.

Mindful eating is eating with awareness, which allows us to eat more in response to true hunger and enjoy the pleasure of eating. Check out my previous blog to gain further explanation.

Where food is abundant it may become trickier to identify true hunger. One model which is helpful in identifying our cues to eating is that of the seven hungers. I first came across this in a book authored by Jan Chozen Bays.[2] This simple model assigns our eating cues into 7 categories and the following gives some examples of how each may present in everyday life.

  1. Eye Hunger – Have you ever been to a restaurant and said no to dessert because you were full, but when your friend orders you decide to have a mouthful of theirs “just to try”?
  2. Nose hunger – You go to the hardware store and the local Lions club has a fund-raising sausage sizzle. Having just consumed a hearty breakfast for a day’s DIY work you eat a sausage sandwich and feel terrible!
  3. Mouth hunger – After the first mouthful you comment “this is delicious”, you then continue with the conversation, then suddenly realize the plate is empty and you want more.
  4. Stomach hunger – Your stomach is making audible sounds signaling it needs food and you eat anything that is handy. Sometimes anxiety feels like hunger and sometimes what is on the TV can cause anxiety…so it is important to know which is which.
  5. Cellular hunger – You notice you have started to crave more red meat or greens etc. You may feel faint or listless.
  6. Mind hunger – You have a lot of “should” in your vocabulary when you talk about food.
  7. Heart hunger – You have had a rough day, you long for a sweet spot in your life and instead you come home to a packet of biscuits. Eating the whole packet only makes things worse!

I am guessing we can all see these things happening in our lives. Here are some ideas if you notice that any of the seven hungers are a problem you need a solution for.

For eye hunger – At least once a week create one meal where the food is presented beautifully, and you eat at a beautiful table.  In effect you are creating a different type of candy for your eyes.

For nose hunger – Take some time to appreciate and breathe in all the aromas, try to detect as many smells as is possible. Take your first bite and as you chew notice the taste changes. Notice how long it takes before the taste disappears.

For mouth hunger – Chew each mouthful of food at least 20 times, after a few bites rate your hunger – continue until you feel “full”.

For stomach hunger – At each meal assess stomach hunger at the beginning and halfway through. Choose to eat a little more until you have eaten just enough.

For cellular hunger – Try to train yourself at mealtimes to tune in to what food your body is truly hungry for.

For mind hunger – Listen to what the mind is saying, change the chatter to something more compassionate that you would say if talking to a dear friend.

For heart hunger – Before snacking notice your emotions and see if they are part of the hunger. Make a list of nurturing things you like to do and do that for nourishment when you experience heart hunger. It can be as simple as a walk with the dog!

Until next time, be well.

[1] Wansink B, Kim J, Bad popcorn in big buckets: portion size can influence intake as much as taste. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2005 Sep-Oct;37(5):242-5.

[2] Jan Chozen Bays, 2009, Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food, Shambhala, USA

More about the author

Debbie Pannowitz

Debbie Pannowitz Grad Dip Hlth Sci (Nutr Med), RSKP, MSc, MBA), the Mindful Nutritionist, gathers over 20 years of experience in healthcare and combines her clinical experience of nutrition medicine and kinesiology to meld individualized mindful eating programs  via consults, courses and retreats. She is a public speaker and the author of Heal with Food - Food Farmacopoeia. She has an extensive career in scientific research, the food and health industries and is particularly interested in clarity in healthcare communication. She has a number of publications to her name, lectured and tutored at several of the major natural therapy colleges throughout Australia and writes occasionally for journals and community newspapers. Her preferred habitat is a vege patch. Mindful eating courses are currently being facilitated by Debbie at City East Community College.