When I was young, I was told that we have five senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. This not something that I ever questioned and took it at face value. I believed this to be true until the day a teacher told me that we actually have many ways to sense touch. Once she explained that touch included sensations such as pressure, temperature, and vibrations, I rolled my eyes at myself and thought “Well, of course!” This same idea, that something can be more complex once you look deeper, applied to how I looked at my hunger after years of restrictive dieting behaviors.
One of the first steps I took towards recovery was to see an intuitive eating dietitian. Our first meeting included a brief let’s-get-to-know-each-other conversation followed by a paperwork dump. Once I got home and began flipping through that massive pile of papers, I paused when I got to a sheet about types of hunger. My initial reaction to the title was “What nonsense! There isn’t more than one type of hunger. Hunger is hunger”, but then my mind flashed back to that day when I discovered that our five senses aren’t literally five senses. I didn’t think any more about that until I read about the “other voices of hunger” in the intuitive eating book. At that point, I couldn’t ignore this. Perhaps there was more to hunger than what I had thought.
Even though I understood what I had read, I continued to see hunger only as a rumbling in my stomach. This was my way of coping with the massive changes that came from distancing myself from my eating disorder. Dealing with biological hunger was hard enough without there being multiple types of hunger to wrap my head around. But over the next few months, I began to see it as something more than just a biological process. I reread the handout and the section of the IE book that referenced types of hunger, and, not only did it make sense, I actually began to embrace the many forms of hunger.
Hunger is a desire to eat for whatever reason. I have read about or discovered the following reasons for hunger:
- Eating because I’m genuinely hungry. This one is pretty simple. My body tells me that it needs fuel, so I eat.
- Eating because something sounds or tastes good. There are times when I can’t stop thinking about a particular food. This is taste hunger…and it’s normal! When I have taste hunger, one or two mindful bites usually does the trick.1 I used to stress about this and think that I shouldn’t eat something when I wasn’t biologically hungry, but that would just cause anxiety which can do more damage to my body than a cookie would.
- Eating for practical reasons. Sometimes I have to be flexible and practical when it comes to eating. I know I won’t be able to stop my meeting at work if I get hungry, so I need to anticipate that hunger and plan ahead. I’ll either eat a bigger meal earlier in the day or have a snack before the meeting even if I’m not hungry at the time.
- Eating to deal with emotions. Emotional eating is extremely common. I often used food to distract myself from tough emotions like anxiety or low self-esteem. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing because it helped me cope in the moment, but I did have to eventually learn other coping skills that did not revolve around food.
- Eating to be social. Eating with others to celebrate or just to share an experience is part of being human. I have attended parties and wasn’t very hungry, but I ate a little piece of cake to be part of the community.
- Eating in response to deprivation. When I began to listen to my body and fuel it accordingly, there were times when I felt like I couldn’t stop eating. This was normal and just my body’s response to being deprived for so long. My body thought I was going to diet again and wanted to prepare by getting in as much food as possible .
- Eating out of habit. I often catch myself wanting to have something sweet after dinner just because that’s what I have always done. It’s like I grab the tub of ice cream because I’m on autopilot rather than out of hunger, physical or otherwise. I sometimes will find another activity and then check-in. If I still want the ice cream, then I eat it, and if I don’t, then I move on.
- Eating tied to memories. The smell of lilac is a pleasant reminder of my grandmother because that scent was in the perfume she used. This is called association and it applies to food too. Certain smells or sights can trigger a fond memory, even subconsciously, and that makes the food appealing. When I see a picture of pumpkin bread, I think of the holidays and being around family which makes me immediately want to head to the kitchen and bake.
Because I now recognize that hunger can come in different forms, I no longer scold myself when I eat without the presence of a growling stomach. Like other “normal” eaters, there are times when I have a craving but I’m not hungry and that’s fine. I believe that there are no rules in intuitive eating, so if I want to eat something and I’m not physically hungry, I allow myself to enjoy it by eating it unconditionally and without judgement.
Do you notice different types of hunger? Please share in the comment section below.
1And if I overeat because it tastes so darn good, that’s okay. My world will not turn inside out and explode!
Thank you so much for reading my blog! I am honored that you chose to read about my experience.
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