Do you ever feel the need to manage your hunger? Amazingly enough, there’s a sutra for that!
As with last week, this week’s sutra instructs you to meditate on your subtle body to overcome the drives of your physical body.
Now, first, I think it’s worth mentioning why this sutra even exists. Not that I know for sure –no one does– but here’s my guess. While today we sit for meditation for minutes, yogis and monks throughout history sat for hours. It doesn’t seem far fetched to imagine that at some point in all that sitting the yogis got hungry or thirsty. I don’t know about you, but when I’m hungry very little else matters to me. “Must. get. food.” becomes the animal refrain scrolling through my brain.
But if you’re on a mission of self discovery that is bigger than your hunger, you’ll want a reliable trick to quiet your hunger pangs.
Hunger and thirst are brought under control by total concentration on the centre of such feelings at the bottom of the throat.
Isn’t that neat?
If hunger or thirst is a real threat to your well being, your attention to a single point of focus within your body may be a useful way to get through it. But at some point you just need food and water. I can’t speak to world hunger with any authority or grace, so I’m just going to leave it at that and move on to something a little more in my grasp.
Most of us in the modern world struggle with how to interpret our hunger/thirst signals to meet our needs.
Never before has food been so plentiful for so many! And so how we eat is an enormous topic of interest and concern.
I am an advocate of “eating when hungry” and “drinking when thirsty”. But then I realize that, despite eating hearty meals, I’m hungry all the time!
How can do I trust such out-of-whack hunger pangs?
Most of us will eat when we’re thirsty or bored or emotional, not only when we’re hungry. Plenty of us eat more than we need just because food tastes so damn good. These things can lead to messed up hunger signals.
If that means our eating habits get in the way of good living, we should take a cue from sutra 3.31 and examine ways to manage those habits.
3 steps to managing hunger and thirst
First, get to know your body / yourself well enough to analyze reliable information out of the body’s signals.
Then, learn how to choose “appropriate” or desired responses to your body signals instead of continuing to react out of habit.
Finally, practice the above until you decide you have a good relationship with your hunger and thirst signals.
While you can master this, you may also need to reassess after life’s curve balls. Blindsided by changes in situation, activity, and age, your trusty self analysis skills may need the occasional check in. Or you might be one of the brilliant fiends who navigates these twists and turns without missing a step.
If you didn’t read last week’s post on getting to know your body, go back and check it out. Beyond those basic steps, determining what is real hunger and what is something else may take a while.
Start by checking in with your food needs. Are you getting enough nourishment for your size, age, and activity level? Are you taking in too much?
A good way to check on this, beyond calorie metrics, is to notice when food perks you up and when it weighs you down. What are the differences in what you ate? Times of day? How much physical activity you’d done?
If you regularly eat more than you need, it’s time to look at your emotional relationship to food. Do you eat when you’re more peckish than hungry? Are you soothing or avoiding an emotion by eating? Boredom, procrastination, loneliness, and frustration all seem to stimulate a snack attack.
You may also be overeating without realizing it. Maybe you’re 40 eating for your 20 year old self. Metabolism does tend to slow with age, which means you probably don’t need that much food anymore. If you enjoy the way you eat, cutting back may be rough (if you decide to do so), but it may reveal a shift in energy, too. Overeating can make you feel sluggish (beyond the hour after your meal). Trimming your food intake to the right amount can give you back some energy. (PS weight may or may not be a factor here. You don’t need to be overweight to be burdened by your food and you don’t need to be thin as rails to be undernourished.)
I’m not an expert in eating, these are just a few things I’ve gleaned from life and paying attention. I offer them here not as prescriptive advice, but suggestions that may help you dig deeper for whatever course of action you need.
After you’ve figure out what is a need for fuel and what is not, you can move on to tactics for calming hunger signals that can be safely ignored.
There are a couple of issues with the above sentence that I want to point out. First, I use the word “fuel” a little tongue-in-cheek. I do not mean to suggest that you should not eat for pleasure. Please, by all means, indulge your senses! It’s ok to enjoy food! If you can love what you eat, you’re doing something right. Second, it would be “safe” to “ignore” signals from your body after you’ve already taken care of all your physiological and psychological needs. So, just because you don’t need to eat now to assuage hunger, doesn’t mean there isn’t a different need that you should address. My suggestions below do not target this.
If you feel an impulse to eat that couldn’t possibly be genuine hunger, or if it’s genuine but you’re stuck in a meeting for another hour, you can try conscious distraction to move through it.
Conscious distraction through deep breathing
- Deep breathing with mindful attention on the sensations of the breath
- Yoga or other physical activity that stimulates full breathing
What tactics have you used? Share your ideas, successes, and challenges in the comments below!