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Tummy Hunger or Mouth Hunger?

In reading a book recently with advice from the Dalai Lama,  The Art of Happiness,  plus several other articles dealing with New Year's diet resolutions, it occurred to me to write on the subject of hunger.  

Hunger is necessary for our continued existence.  We need to replenish the energy we expend, heal and rebuild constantly.  But taken too far, which seems to be the norm in recent years, obesity and many health problems result.

What causes this required instinct to go haywire and how can we control it?  By learning the difference between "Tummy Hunger" and "Mouth Hunger".

Real tummy hunger is glorious.  Some of the most memorable meals I have eaten were after a hard bout of physical labor.   Who can forget coming indoors out of the cold to savor the fragrance of Mom's cooking as a child? 

Tummy hunger is a hollow feeling in the middle, perhaps a growling stomach.  Sometimes it includes cold or exhaustion, or trembling from low blood sugar.  A meal eaten to satisfy real tummy hunger is true happiness.

Mouth hunger is something else.  We are born with it - stroke a newborn baby's cheek and see how its mouth seeks your finger, whether it's hungry or not.

Mouth hunger is caused by a need for something - and not necessarily food.   It leads to munchies, often on inappropriate snacks, to added pounds, and while it may bring pleasure at the moment, it does not lead to happiness - especially when you cannot fit into your clothes or keep up with the youngsters.

Here's some hints on controlling this monster - and it truly is a monster issue for many of us. 

  1. Thirst.  You may be sloshing from coffee, soft drinks or tea, but these do not satisfy actual thirst and hydrate your body sufficiently.  Have a drink of water.  I find that splurging on a particular brand of bottled water, and having the bottle at hand all the time, works best for me.

  2. Mouth fuzz.   If your teeth and tongue are coated with plaque, you may be more likely to seek food, if only to dislodge some of it.   A good tooth-brushing, including the tongue, plus flossing, may delay your food craving.

  3. Need for nutrients.  If your diet is short of veggies, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, Omega 3 and other valuable nutrients, your body knows!  It tells you to eat.  Unfortunately, if you continue to snack on sugary, salty snacks low in these vital nutrients your body is begging for, you make the situation worse, not better.  The more you weigh, the more of these nutrients are required, pound for pound, in order for you to feel right.  The more you want to eat. 

    Don't start a regimen of supplements unless you know what you are doing or check with your doctor, especially if you are taking any medications or have a medical condition.  Instead, improve your diet.

  4. Constipation.   This is a low grade discomfort, your body telling you something is wrong.  It may lead to a desire to stuff more into the top end to shove it out the bottom, to put it crudely.  However, unless the items you consume are water, water-rich items like fruit or soup, and high-fiber food, the situation gets worse, not better.

  5. Unhappiness.  Food is pleasure.   Pleasure takes your mind off the thing(s) you are unhappy or anxious about.  But it will not make you happy.   Analyze why you need this distraction.  Perhaps there isn't much you do about some unhappy situations, but at least recognize what they are and find the strength to accept them.  Also, try to substitute chewing gum, water, and nutritious munchies as much as possible.

  6. Boredom.   That's a biggie.   You can be bored watching the same trite shows on TV, playing the same mindless games on the computer or play-station, working at the same job or doing the same tasks over and over.   Sometimes you can get up and do something different, take a short brisk walk, try a different activity.  Often items that must be done can be accomplished with mindfulness, not just by rote.  With all the wonderful possibilities in the world, there's no excuse for being bored.

Food, when you aren't tummy hungry, can only bring you fleeting pleasure, it will not make you happy, long term.   Recognizing the difference between the two kinds of hunger is the first step to a solution.  When the munchies strike, ask yourself what kind of hunger it is, and why.  And keep in mind that food, after exercise or hard work, satisfies both tummy and mouth hunger in the most enjoyable way!

The Sneaky Kitchen
Web Site by Bess W. Metcalf   Copyrightę April 1999 - 201

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