Have you heard about stomach hunger versus mouth hunger? Many nutritionists and dietitians talk about this. A client mentions eating Something Bad, and the practitioner asks, “Was it stomach hunger or mouth hunger?”

A variation on the question is, “Was it physical hunger or emotional hunger?”

Peak-performance motivator Anthony Robbins says, “If you ask bad questions, you get bad answers.” Asking a client whether she ate because of stomach or mouth hunger — or because of physical versus emotional hunger — is the classic Bad Question.

And it gets bad answers. Answers like “I don”™t know” or “I”™m not sure.” Sometimes the answer is another bad question: “How can I tell?” The client is trying to figure out if she was hungry for physical reasons or emotional ones.

Despite these rampant failures, the question persists. One book even uses the term “intestinal hunger.” Does anyone out there have any idea what that is? If I can”™t understand it, what chance do my clients have?

Of course, if you”™re not comfortable handling your participants”™ food and eating issues, by all means refer to a nutritionist. This post is about awareness of what some of your participants may go through daily.

A Better Question

Here”™s an idea that might be good for practitioners to adopt. I never use the term “hunger” for anything but physical hunger. Instead I ask, “Were you physically hungry, or did you just have an urge to eat?”

That question gets real answers and can uncover some important issues. People can tell the difference.

The urge to eat could have much behind it — emotions, stress, shifts in brain chemistry, shifts in hormones. Some clients might need coaching to explore the emotional component and retrain their responses not to involve food. Some may need to change their diets to change brain chem and/or hormones.

Real Hunger

Hunger is a specific, physical signal that the body needs food. I”™ve explained in detail what hunger feels like to clients who don”™t experience it.

Why don”™t those clients experience hunger?

Some may not because, for years, they”™ve been eating for reasons that have nothing to do with hunger:
- the clock says it”™s mealtime
- everyone else is eating
- appetizing food is here now
- they ate too much at the last meal
- they”™re stressed, depressed, anxious, or even happy.

Readers may conclude that the items in the last bullet show “emotional hunger,” but I”™m suggesting that the word “hunger” causes the confusion. It”™s more appropriate to use it only when physical hunger signals are present.

How Do I Know If I”™m Hungry?

Clients who never feel hungry may be confused about how to determine hunger. If someone says, “I ate breakfast at 7 am, and now it”™s 12:30, so I must be hungry,” that”™s a thought process, not hunger. The best tactic is to help clients retrain their recognition of hunger through increased awareness of body signals.

It”™s helpful to stay aware of misinterpreted signals. An obese client told me his hunger was “here” and placed his hand on his throat. Further questioning revealed that he actually had GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disorder), which we alleviated in two ways. One was monitoring his work position after eating (he sometimes worked from home in bed). The other was taking an OTC remedy before the meal. (Don”™t worry; I checked with his doctor.)

Clients who eat lots of sugar may not experience hunger. Despite research, I haven”™t yet found a satisfactory explanation for that. Client symptoms, however, can typically be traced back to drops in glucose. If someone says, “I don”™t get hungry, I get a headache,” that could be one sign of reactive hypoglycemia. Other examples exist.

So the absence of hunger could reflect lack of awareness, chronic overeating, or chronically high sugar consumption. When I uncover a solid explanation for the last, I”™ll definitely let you know.

In the meantime, if you refer your participants to a nutritionist, please screen them and find one who doesn”™t ask about mouth hunger.

Joan Kent

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