Eric Edmeades has created an infographic on the 6 Human Hungers. His primary claim is that not all hunger is created equal.
The first is Nutritional Hunger. Edmeades claims this is the only genuine form of hunger – the body is asking for specific nutrients. But our bodies have been taught to eat anything in sight, so we have to beware. Nutritional hunger, Edmeades says, is not always communicated honestly.
This hunger is actually Thirst. If you drink some water, the hunger may go away.
This hunger is for Variety. When we think we’re hungry, we might actually be craving “something different.”
This is Low Blood Sugar. Edmeades says it’s common “in this day and age” and the result of eating low-quality sugars.
This refers to emotional hunger, which Edmeades claims is a common and dangerous form of dysfunctional eating. Because many people live emotionally empty lives, and because the food industry markets to our emotions, we may try to fill the emotional emptiness with food.
This is empty stomach hunger. Edmeades says it’s merely a survival strategy that no longer applies in today’s world. He describes empty stomach hunger as a “feeling” – I assume he means a sensation – and says we don’t need to heed it.
What the Food?
So I’ve got a problem with this. This list of 6 hungers may be illuminating for people with little awareness of what’s going on in their bodies, but it’s riddled with flaws.
Let’s get rid of a few.
Hunger #2: It makes sense that we look to food when we’re thirsty. Back in the days when people foraged for food – and the foods they ate were high in water content – eating was a way to stay hydrated. But the two states are different. Distinguishing thirst from hunger is a learnable skill. Why call it hunger?
Hunger #3 is the desire for variety. When Edmeades describes it as a “craving”, he doesn’t seem to recognize that cravings and hunger may be completely different. You can crave a food when you’re hungry, and when you’re not. Why call this a hunger?
Hunger #5 – emotional hunger – may be common and dangerous, but it’s not hunger. It’s appetite, combined with emotional need. The result is an urge to use food for emotional reasons.
With those non-hungers gone, we’re left with 3 hungers: Nutritional, low blood sugar, and empty stomach hunger.
Now It Gets Ridiculously Confusing
The human body controls food intake with a complex system that involves signals from the GI tract, the hypothalamus, blood glucose levels, emptiness in stomach and intestines, and hormone levels. Circulating hormones in the gut, the fat, and the pancreas send signals of either hunger or satiety.
So the signals ARE based in part on glucose levels. Glucose drops when we haven’t had food in a long time – not just when we’ve eaten junk, as Edmeades claims. When eating junk does cause low blood sugar, that’s “reactive hypoglycemia.” Yet going without food for many hours can also result in low blood sugar – and that’s a valid reason to eat. So is an empty stomach. They often occur together.
And That Nutritional Hunger Thing?
Now we come to Nutritional Hunger. Yes, the body needs specific nutrients. I’d love to ask Edmeades how the body communicates this particular hunger. If we’re ignoring drops in blood sugar from many hours without food, and ignoring our empty stomachs, how can we recognize nutritional hunger?
To make things worse, Edmeades claims that nutritional hunger isn’t communicated in an honest way because we’re trained to eat anything in sight.
So please tell me: what does Nutritional Hunger feel like? Exactly how does it compare with hunger when our stomachs are empty or our blood sugar low? And if it isn’t communicated honestly, how can we know when we’re dealing with genuine nutritional hunger or the dishonestly communicated kind?
Some time ago, I wrote an article challenging the common nutritionist/dietitian habit of distinguishing “stomach hunger” from “mouth hunger”.
My point was food is meant to be eaten in response to physical hunger. I have had to describe the sensation of physical hunger to clients who don’t know what it feels like. Eating in the absence of that sensation is probably a response to the urge to eat – maybe for emotional reasons, including boredom. Or to a craving – cravings are typically due to brain chemistry. But those aren’t hunger! Let’s stop calling them hunger.
Talking that way confuses the client. As I pointed out 2 years ago, asking someone if she ate because of stomach hunger or mouth hunger will elicit confused answers: I’m not sure. I don’t know. How can I tell?
To generate a clear response, ask if she ate because she was physically hungry or just felt like eating.
I don’t use the word “hunger” unless I’m talking about the physical sensation. That sensation is a signal from the body to eat. It’s based on glucose levels, how much or how little food is in your stomach, the hormones that are responding to all of this, and so on.
If you don’t have that sensation but feel like eating, one of the many other reasons listed above could be driving you.
But when you tell people the only reason to eat is when the body needs specific nutrients, AND you don’t describe how to identify this “only genuine hunger,” AND you say this hunger is not always communicated honestly, AND you don’t explain how the honest and dishonest hungers differ from each other… how on earth can you expect anyone to respond to food and eating in a natural and logical way, let alone make an informed decision about when to eat?
Saying I disagree with Eric Edmeades’s view on 6 hungers is putting it mildly. Mr. Edmeades, give your clients a break.