It seems to me that there are two kinds of hunger: tummy hunger and what I call body hunger. Tummy hunger is when your stomach is empty and you get the message that you need to fill it up. That’s what most of us think of as hunger.
Body hunger is everything else. I’ve noticed lately that sometimes after I finish a meal I’m definitely not tummy hungry any more but I still feel like I want something. My body is asking for something I didn’t provide.
So, instead of assuming that I’m having a craving, I slow down and ask my body what it needs. Maybe there weren’t enough carbs in the main meal, and then I’ll have a piece of fruit for dessert. Or maybe my meal had a lot of fat in it and my body is asking for something bitter to stimulate bile. That’s when chocolate or coffee sounds like a good after-dinner option. A couple of bites of very dark chocolate or a cup of decaf can meet that need with minimal anti-nutrients.
My body can ask for support in any area—physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. The need for a boost to my mental function might manifest as a craving for donuts. When I take a moment to break down what a donut might actually provide, I realize that what my body is asking for is some carbs and fats for quick energy and brain support. A spoonful of nut butter might be a better choice than a donut while fulfilling the same need.
Emotional cravings can be harder to parse. Once I attended a birthday party with people I didn’t know very well. It was a lovely warm afternoon, there was a bluegrass band-my favorite kind of music–and I was having a great time, until they brought out the table COVERED with sugary desserts. I started craving some dessert and there was no one there I could talk to it about. I felt more and more lonely until I was almost crying; I must be the only person in the world who might be trying to avoid sugar. It seemed like the only answer was to eat the cake (and cookies and whatever else was on the table) so that I could be part of the crowd. Finally, I was able to reach a friend on the phone who told me she loved me. Turned out it wasn’t sugar but oxytocin that I needed. Even a virtual hug was enough to overcome the craving and allow me to go back into the party and dance and laugh my ass off.
It’s difficult to separate the biological from the emotional or spiritual. Emotions have such an influence on the biological, and biological processes have such an influence on how feel and experience the world.
In the end, mindfulness is the key. When I can refrain from judgement and ask what’s really going on, I can make better choices based in reality.