Over the past several years, I’ve realized the importance of paying attention to physical  and emotional hunger and trying to understand the difference between the two.

Physical hunger, which includes physical signs of hunger such as hunger pangs, emptiness, irritability, and low energy, is your body’s way of telling you that you need to eat.  It often occurs several hours after a meal and goes away when you get full. On the other hand, emotional hunger involves eating to cope with an emotional state such as stress, sadness, boredom, or happiness, and usually has no relation to your body’s physical hunger or fullness levels, and often leads to feelings of guilt and shame.

But, recently through The Center for Mindful Eating, I’ve learned about a different type of hunger- Sensory hunger. Sensory hunger is a hunger that we might experience when food is in our presence. It involves hunger that we may feel simply by seeing food (eye hunger), smelling food (nose hunger), tasting and feeling the food in your mouth (mouth hunger), and hearing food (sound hunger). 

I think this is so interesting! When I was young and I would overfill my plate with food, my mom would always say, “You’ll never eat all of that. Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.”  Now, I know that I was probably experiencing “eye hunger”.  I often see this with my clients as well.  They will complain that they can’t stop eating even though they are full and they are not using food to cope with emotions.  They often say, “It just tastes so good, I can’t stop.”  They are experiencing “taste hunger”. 

 I’m sure we have all experienced sensory hunger at one time or another, possibly every single day! So, the next time you feel hunger, take a moment to think about what type of hunger YOU are feeling.

At around 10 o’clock this morning I started noticing my typical signs of hunger- growling stomach, headache, difficulty concentrating, so I ate a few nuts.  About a half an hour later, my hunger came back.  I knew that eating more nuts would not satisfy me….what I really wanted was to eat my lunch! My initial thought was, “I already ate breakfast and it’s only 10:30 in the morning, I can’t eat my lunch.  I can’t eat lunch earlier than 11:30.“   Suddenly I realized that this was a completely unreasonable rule.  Who says you can’t eat your lunch at l0:30 in the morning?  I am sure that this thought came from our society and years of  being in environments (school, work), which have taught me to eat lunch at noon.  But in my current life, I can choose when and what I want to eat.   So, today, for the first time in my life, I ate my nicely packed lunch which included a salad, yogurt, and fruit at 10:30 in the morning and I was completely satisfied. 🙂 

The reason that I’m sharing this with you is that I think it’s important for everyone to listen to the voices in your head (or in your stomach :)); try to recognize any “food rules” that are dictating your eating; and to start to challenge them. Obviously my body was telling me that I needed food, if I had ignored it and ate “when it was time”, I probably would have had a completely different experience- extreme hunger, eating fast, probably overeating, then feeling sick, and possibly guilt.  But, instead, I chose to listen to my body, honor my hunger, and ignore external cues for eating (time).  The end result was feeling fueled properly, pleasure, and contentment.

Great Article!  These are some of the most common things I hear from my clients….

By Michelle May, M.D.

Diets are filled with dogma about when, what and how much to eat. Certainly “the rules” are usually based on observations that make sense, but unless you understand why you do certain things, you’ll break the rules as soon as the temptation is greater than your motivation.


Let’s examine some of these myths, where they come from and how to make long term changes that will work for you.

Myth: Don’t Eat After 7pm

Your metabolism doesn’t shut off at 7:01 pm so why is this rule so common? It’s based on the observation that many people who struggle with their weight overeat in the evening. Most have already eaten dinner so they aren’t snacking because they’re hungry. They snack because of boredom, television, loneliness and other triggers.

Rather than creating a rule to address those habits, ask yourself “Am I hungry?” whenever you feel like eating in the evenings. If you truly are, eat, keeping in mind that your day is winding down so you won’t need a huge meal. If you aren’t, consider why you feel like eating and come up with a better way to address that need. Ken, a man in one of my workshops, realized he was just bored so he started doing stained glass in the evenings to entertain himself. Whatever works!

Myth: Eat Small Meals Every 3 Hours

This rule is based on the fact that many thin people tend to eat frequent small meals. However, most of the thin people I know don’t check their watch to tell them it’s time to eat – they eat when their body tells them to. They eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re satisfied. Since that tends to be a small meal, they get hungry again in a few hours.

Instead of watching the clock, begin to tune in to the physical symptoms of hunger to tell you when to eat. And remember, your stomach is only about the size of your fist so it only holds a handful of food comfortably. By learning to listen to your body’s signals, you are likely to follow a frequent small meal pattern naturally.

Myth: Don’t Let Yourself Get Hungry

This one is based on the belief that overweight people are incapable of controlling themselves when they’re hungry. In my experience with hundreds of workshop participants, once they learn to tell the difference between physical hunger and head hunger, the opposite is true.

Think about it. When you’re hungry, food tastes better and is more satisfying. My grandmother used to say, “Hunger is the best seasoning.” Besides, if you aren’t hungry when you start eating, what’s going to tell you to stop? Of course, you also need to learn to recognize hunger and make time to eat before you’re too hungry since it’s harder to make great choices when you’re starving!

Myth: Exercise More When You Cheat

I hate this one because it has caused millions of people to equate physical activity with punishment for eating. As a result, many people either hate to exercise or use exercise to earn the right to eat.

While it’s true that your weight is determined by your overall calories in versus your calories out, exercise is only part of the equation and has so many other important benefits. Instead of using exercise to pay penance, focus on how great you feel, how much more energy you have, how much better you sleep and how much healthier you’re becoming. In the long run, you are more likely to exercise because it feels good than because you’re forced to.

Myth: Follow Your Diet Six Days a Week Then You Can Have a Cheat Day

This is absurd! What if you were a harsh, overly strict parent six days a week then completely ignored your kids every Saturday? How would this approach work for your marriage or managing your employees?

It just doesn’t make sense to try to be perfect (whatever that is) Sunday through Friday while obsessing about everything you’re going to eat on your day off. Then on Saturday you overeat just because you’re allowed to so you end up feeling miserable all day. Huh? Personally, I’d rather enjoy eating the foods I love every day, mindfully and in moderation. I call this being “in charge” instead of going back and forth between being in control and out of control.

Myth: Eat X Number of Calories a Day

Does it make sense that you would need exactly the same amount of fuel every day? Aren’t there just days when you’re hungrier than others, maybe because of your activity levels or hormonal cycles?

Rather than setting yourself up to “cheat” on those hungry days and forcing yourself to eat more food than you want on your less hungry days, allow yourself the flexibility to adjust your intake based on your actual needs rather than an arbitrary number. Important: for this to work long term, you also need to learn to tell the difference between physical hunger and head hunger.

Myth: Carbs are Bad (or Fat is Bad)

This “good food-bad food” thinking makes certain foods special. As a result, you may feel deprived and think about them even more than you did before. Worse yet, healthy foods become a four-letter word.

The truth is all foods fit into a healthy diet. Since different foods have various nutritional qualities and calorie content, you can use the principles of balance, variety and moderation to guide you without trying to restrict an entire food group.

Truth: You Are In Charge

I assume the rule-makers are well-intentioned and don’t realize that they’ve created a tight rope that most people fall off sooner or later. It’s time to give yourself the flexibility to make decisions that both nourish and nurture you.


Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yoyo dieter and the award-winning author of Am I Hungry? What to Do When Diets Don’t Work. Find additional articles and resources at http://AmIHungry.com/.

stressedoutStress is everywhere….my client just lost three family members, my accountant is afraid he won’t get the taxes done on time, my friend just lost her job, and I’m planning a wedding! It seems like almost everyone is under some kind of stress. Many people manage their stress with food. After all, food can provide pleasure; soothe pressure and distress; and fill a void. But, overtime, overeating can cause weight gain, which is often associated with other conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Here are some tips to controlling stress-related eating:

1. Become aware of the behavior. Without being aware, you can’t change..right? To do this, start by being more mindful when you eat. Ask yourself…”Am I hungry?” or think about why you’re eating.

2. If you find yourself grabbing for food when you’re not hungry, try to wait 15 – 30 minutes to eat and see if that changes your desire for food.

eating-on-the-run3. Try eating only when seated and not on the run, in the car, while working, or any other activity. This will help to keep you more focused on eating.

4. Keep a food record. Look for trends in your eating. This will not only help you to remember what you ate, but also it will help you to think before you eat. Plus, you may realize if you are overeating.

5. Eat regularly and consistently. The more routine your eating pattern is, the less unintentional or erratic eating will take place. Also, eating regularly, keeps your energy and blood glucose levels steady, which can help with managing stress.

6. Keep low calorie, healthful foods available; get rid of tempting foods. If your tendency is to put something in your mouthstress when you’re stressed, try eating cut up vegetables or fruits to occupy your mouth without affecting your waist.

7. Exercise. Try to take a walk, ride your bike, or practice yoga INSTEAD of eating to cope with stress. Even if it is only 5 minutes…that amount of time will give you a chance to pause and think instead of reacting to a stressful situation. Also, a regular exercise routine can keep stress levels down.

8. Don’t feel guilty if you DO overeat. This will most likely lead to more stressful eating and then the cycle begins again….

9. If nothing else works, talk to someone…a family member, friend, psychologist, or nutritionist.

gaining-weightCan you remember back in January, after stepping on the scale, that you wished you hadn’t had that last piece of pie, the extra gravy, or that cup of eggnog? You were not alone! Studies show that the average American gains one to two pounds during the holiday season. Although that may not seem like a lot, each year adds up and can contribute to a lot of excess weight. But you can avoid this if you stay mindful of your eating this holiday season. Follow these simple tips for having a healthy holiday season, and come January, perhaps the only wish you’ll have is that you have a sweetheart on Valentine’s day!

1. Acknowledge that the holidays may not be the ideal time to try to lose weight. Try setting a more realistic goal to maintain weight.

2. Stay in-tune with your hunger. Don’t let the busyness and stressfulness of the holidays distract you from paying attention to your body’s internal cues. Let your physical hunger and satiety cues guide your decision to start and stop eating. Try to stick to your regular eating routine to avoid under and over eating.

3. Pay attention to self-talk, such as “I’ll skip breakfast and lunch today because I know I’ll make up for it later at the holiday dinner.” This way of thinking usually leads to overeating later. Start your day with a healthy breakfast which includes whole grains, fruit, dairy, and protein foods like eggs or peanut butter. Small snacks throughout the day can also help to avoid eating too much later.

holidaycandy4. Pay attention to your environment. If you notice that every year your office keeps treats around during the holidays, try planning ahead by bringing healthy snacks to work to avoid unnecessary indulgences. DO allow yourself to try a small amount of your favorite foods because you shouldn’t feel deprived.

5. Acknowledge your responses to food. Eat foods that you are know are both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body. If you already know that you don’t like mindful-eatingthe taste of sweet potato pie, then, don’t eat it. Or, if you always look forward to your sweetness of your Grandmother’s double fudge brownies every year, then, don’t deprive yourself of it. Chances are that you’ll be happier and more satisfied because you chose to eat ONLY the foods that you know are pleasing to your body.

6. Acknowledge that there is no right or wrong way to eat during the holidays, but that everyone experiences food uniquely based on their own awareness.

latke7. Stay aware of the familial and cultural practices related to food. For example, during Hannukah, Jews traditionally eat potato latkes and other foods cooked in oil to remind them of the oil that burned for eight days. On Christmas Eve, my friends’ family, customarily drinks apple cider. Focusing on a food’s connection to family or cultural traditions, can help you to appreciate it’s meaning and helps take the focus off “good” “bad” eating.

8. Stay in the moment. When you choose to eat mindfully, you point your awareness to the whole experience of eating on a moment-by-moment basis. For example: Strive to choose foods that you know are pleasing for you in that moment, focus on the taste, smell, texture and appearance of the food in front of you; and check in with your hunger level before, during, and after eating.

wine9. If you like to celebrate the holidays with alcohol, try to stay mindful of how much you drink. The more alcohol you drink, the more difficult this will become. ☺ It’s a good idea to eat something before you drink alcohol because drinking on an empty stomach can lead to overeating and overdrinking.

10. Don’t forget to move! Even though it’s a busy time of year, the importance of runner1maintaining your exercise regimen is central to maintaining your pre-holiday health!!!

It’s that time of year again….Halloween…the kick off to unhealthful holiday eating. You may have worked all year to maintain your New Year’s resolution to healthy living; and in just a matter of 2 months, you may find yourself back where you started.


In honor of Halloween tomorrow, I would like to help you to stay mindful of your Halloween candy choices so that you don’t become haunted by the effects of those devilish treats.


Here is a list of popular Halloween candy, their nutrition information, and some healthier alternatives:

  1. Snickers Bar: 280 calories; 14 grams fat
    • Healthy Alternative: Fun Size Snickers Bar (72 calories, 3.7 grams of fat)
  2. Kit Kat (3 bars): 200 calories; 11 grams fat
    • Healthy Alternative: Kit Kat Snack Size Bar (133 calories, 7 grams of fat)
  3. Peanut M & M’s (1 pack): 250 calories; 13 grams fat
    • Healthy Alternative: Fun Size Peanut M & M’s (100 calories; 4.5 grams fat) OR
    • 10 M & M chocolate candies (34 calories; 1.5 grams of fat)
  4. 4. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups: 260 calories; 15 grams of fat
    • Healthy Alternative: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups Snack Size (90 calories, 5 grams fat)



5.  3 Musketeer Fun Size (3 bars): 190 calories; 6 grams of fat

  • Healthy Alternative: 3 Musketeer Fun Size, 1 bar (63 calories; 2 grams fat)

6. Candy Corn (22 pieces): 140 calories, 0 grams fat

  • Healthy Alternative: 11 pieces (70 calories; 0 grams fat)



Other ideas for healthy Halloween treats include:  

  • 1 cup lowfat popcorn, 10 peanuts, + 5 candy corn = 100 calories, 5 grams fat
  • 1 Kashi Granola Bar = 140 calories, 5 grams fat
  • Any 100 calorie- snack pack
  • Vitamuffin Vita-tops= 100 calories, 0-1.5 grams fat
  • Jolly Time 100-calorie bags popcorn
  • Apple dipped in 2 Tablespoons of fat free caramel dip
  • 1 York Peppermint Patty= 53 calories, 1 gram fat


Keep in mind, PORTION is key. Even the healthy options can add up to too many calories if you don’t stay mindful of the portion.  Consider spreading the treats out for several days and limiting yourself to one or two treats per day….that way you can enjoy the holiday treats, without much of the guilt. It only takes 500 extra calories per day to gain one pound in a week!

One of my favorite books is “Intuitive Eating” by Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch (both dietitians).  When I work with clients who are struggling with eating, I guide them by using these 10 Intuitive Eating principles:

 1. Reject the Diet Mentality- Throw out the diet books and magazine articles that offer you false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently.

2. Honor Your Hunger- Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Learning to honor this first biological signal sets the stage for re-building trust with yourself and food.

3. Make Peace with Food -Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. If you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, bingeing.

4. Challenge the Food Police-Scream a loud “NO” to thoughts in your head that declare you’re “good” for eating under 1000 calories or “bad” because you ate a piece of chocolate cake.

5. Respect Your Fullness- Listen for the body signals that tell you that you are no longer hungry. Observe the signs that show that you’re comfortably full.

6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor- When you eat what you really want, in an environment that is inviting and conducive, the pleasure you derive will be a powerful force in helping you feel satisfied and content. By providing this experience for yourself, you will find that it takes much less food to decide you’ve had “enough”.

7. Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food -Find ways to comfort, nurture, distract, and resolve your issues without using food. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, anger are emotions we all experience throughout life. But food won’t solve the problem. If anything, eating for an emotional hunger will only make you feel worse in the long run. You’ll ultimately have to deal with the source of the emotion, as well as the discomfort of overeating.

8. Respect Your Body- Accept your genetic blueprint. But mostly, respect your body, so you can feel better about who you are. It’s hard to reject the diet mentality if you are unrealistic and overly critical about your body shape.

9. Exercise-Shift your focus to how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie burning effect of exercise.

10. Honor Your Health -Make food choices that honor your health and tastebuds while making you feel well.

One way to practice mindful eating is to pay attention to each sensation during eating, such as chewing, tasting, and swallowing. This allows you to slow down your eating and focus on your food. It also allows you to listen to your body’s needs.  Here is an exercise that you can do alone or with a friend. You will both need a slice of apple.  One person reads the instructions below while the other person does the exercise.

  1. Take one bite of an apple slice and then close your eyes. Do not begin chewing yet.
  2. Try not to pay attention to the ides running through your mind, just focus on the apple. Notice anything that comes to mind about taste, texture, temperature and sensation going on in your mouth.
  3. Begin chewing now.  Chew slowly, just noticing what it feels like. It’s normal that your mind will wander off. If you notice you’re paying more attention to your thinking than to the chewing, just let go of the thought for the moment and come back to the chewing.
  4. In these moments you find yourself wanting to swallow the apple. See if ou can stay present and notice the subtle transition from chewing to swallowing.
  5. As you prepare to swallow the apple, try to follow it moving toward the back of your tongue and into your throat. Swallow the apple, following it until you can no longer feel any sensation of the food remaining.
  6. Take a deep breath and exhale.

The point of this exercise is not to suggest that all your meals should be consumed in this way. Instead, it may help you to realize your own eating habits. Do you eat too fast and barely taste the food in your mouth? Maybe you eat too quickly and end up feeling sick due to overeating? Some people find this technique helpful to do at the first bite of the meal in order to set the tone for the rest of the meal. Try and see how it feels for you!

What is Mindful Eating?

July 14, 2008

Our lives have become so busy not only with work, family and the usual responsibilities, but, also we are constantly distracted by phone calls, emails, text messages, tv etc. Most of us are multitasking in order to get everything done. While we realize that driving and talking on the phone can be dangerous, how many people realize that multitasking while eating can cause a tremendous amount of health problems??

Mindless eating or eating without awareness can contribute to overeating and poor food choices. This type of repetitive behavior may lead to many health problems including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

One way to stop this behavior is become more mindful during eating. Mindful eating involves:

  • eating with awareness;
  • eating based on physiological hunger and satiety cues rather than situation and emotional cues;
  • being present moment by moment, for each sensation that happens during eating, such as chewing, tasting and swallowing.

Stay tuned for another blog on how to practice mindful eating…..