7 types of hunger and what they mean for mindful eating

Do you find yourself reaching for food and eating it without even thinking about it, or eating when you aren’t really hungry?


We don’t always eat because of genuine hunger, our food cravings are often linked to things that have nothing to do with whether we are actually hungry. This means that a lot of us don’t know when we are really hungry or completely full, mostly because this encourages us to engage in mindless eating rather than listening to our body. 

This is one of the reasons why it can be difficult to lose weight as we often eat in line with our emotions or as a response to things we have seen on a television advert or smelt by passing a bakery. The way to avoid this is to adopt a more mindful approach to eating, which involves being aware of what you are eating - especially with regards to when you eat, for what reasons and notice if you are actually having physical feelings of hunger at the time of eating, or is it a response of another stimulus? 

The seven types of hunger

Believe it or not, there are seven different types of hunger and they are mostly linked to parts of the body.  Being aware of them and why they are important helps you to tune into your body and develop a more mindful approach to eating.

1. Eye hunger

Sometimes, we want to eat because we enjoy the way that it looks. A well-presented meal will always appeal more than one that looks unappetising, regardless of what is in it. 

Mindful eating tip: you can harness this in your favour and satisfy eye hunger by really concentrating on the look of your food before you eat it. Rather than eating straight from a packet, taking a bit of time to arrange your food nicely on a plate is an easy way to be more mindful with your meal.

2. Nose hunger

Taste and smell are closely linked and can be easily mistaken for each other. A popular example of this is the very tempting smell of freshly baked bread or cake, which makes most of us think of eating even if we weren’t hungry before it activated our senses. 

Mindful eating tip: you can satisfy nose hunger by engaging with the smell of your food before you start eating. Most of us don’t do this but it’s an easy and underrated way to be more appreciative and mindful of what you are eating. 

3. Mouth hunger

When we eat mindlessly and more often than we truly need, we can condition the mouth to expect food on a very frequent basis. This is one of the most difficult types of hunger to tackle as it’s largely based on the mouth wanting to be satisfied by a range of different textures and tastes. 

Mindful eating tip: one way to challenge mouth hunger is through mindful chewing. The more you chew your food, the more likely you are to be satisfied by it. Swallowing your food after only a few chews won’t help you to appreciate what you are eating so if you tend to do this, now is the time to adjust your eating style. 

4. Stomach hunger

How do you know when you feel hungry? If you use a rumbling stomach as your cue, this can be misleading. We can (and often do) inadvertently train our stomachs to assume it is ready for food by eating at roughly the same times, rather than it being a sign of real hunger. 

Mindful eating tip: rate your hunger on a scale of one to 10 (with one being famished and 10 being so stuffed you feel you might burst) before you start eating a meal, and then again during the meal. You may find that you are a lot less hungry than you thought. Anything above five is not genuine stomach hunger. 

5. Cellular hunger

Your body needs nutrients and if you are not eating enough of certain ones, it can be highlighted by specific cravings for foods that will address this. 

If you're following a diet that cuts out or significantly restricts certain food groups (such as carbs, protein or fats) and are getting cravings for them, you'll probably still be hungry even if you try to satisfy the cravings by eating something other than the foods that your body may be crying out for. 

Mindful eating tip: listen to what your body is trying to tell you with regards to the nutrients it needs to be healthy. The body is surprisingly good at flagging these things up but it is easy to ignore the real situation if you are not practising mindful eating. 

6. Mind hunger

Often, we look to eat in a certain way because we have been conditioned to do so by popular nutrition advice. Diets and eating plants are a common example of this, especially ones that centre around certain food groups. 

The more focused you are on what you read and hear about healthy eating, the more likely it is that mind hunger will dictate your eating habits.  

Mindful eating tip: this can be a challenging one to deal with as it requires you to cut out much of the noise that surrounds you with regards to healthy eating, and focusing instead on what your body truly needs. 

7. Heart hunger 

Emotional eating of comfort foods is often linked to feeling unworthy, down on yourself and even unloved. In this sense, it can be seen as trying to fill an emotional void relating to your heart and feelings. 

Mindful eating tip: the way to satisfy heart hunger is to identify which emotions are fuelling it and how they affect your relationship with food. For the bigger picture, it might be helpful to work with a professional therapist to identify how you can fill the emotional void instead of using food as a crux. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Bournemouth BH2 & Amersham HP7
Written by Anita Bowes, On-line Registered Dietitian & Nutritionist, MSc, BSc, PGDip
Bournemouth BH2 & Amersham HP7

Anita is a registered dietitian. She gained in depth experience in nutrition working in her private practice and for over 12 years as a clinical and research dietitian. She has led cutting edge research into developing new approaches to weight-loss and management of diabetes with several high level publications under her name.

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