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It’s been one of those days! You’ve peeked into the refrigerator three times since lunch. You want something to eat but you can’t figure out what you want. How about some ice cream? Maybe the leftover birthday cake. Perhaps you should go downtown for a pastry and coffee at the cute French bakery.

You have this sense of yearning and food sounds like an easy answer. But in reality, the hunger isn’t from your stomach—it’s inside your heart. Instead of eating to fix this hollow feeling, you need ways to nurture and comfort yourself and renew your spirit.

Recognizing heart hunger

With heart hunger, you don’t usually get a specific food craving—you just start thinking about eating.  As you search your cupboards or the refrigerator, you’re unsure of what sounds good at the moment. You just know you want “something.”

Eventually, heart hunger sends you toward foods that are soft, smooth or creamy textured, such as ice cream, doughnuts or pasta. It can also make you want comfort foods or ones related to fond memories or happy times.

Heart hunger usually stems from empty emotions, such as feeling depressed, discouraged or lonely. It can show up when you’re bored or restless, as well as times when you’re feeling hurt, disappointed or let down. You can also experience heart hunger when you’re longing for things you can’t get such as attention or appreciation.

Heart hunger foods can even sneak into your life without you realizing it. For example, do you eat a bowl of ice cream most nights before going to bed? For many people, ice cream connects back to childhood memories or to nostalgia for family connections. Soft foods such as doughnuts, cinnamon rolls or brownies may be filling the empty spots left by a broken relationship or disappointments in life.

Will eating change it?

When you start craving sweets or other heart hunger foods, ask yourself, “What’s making me feel empty right now? What am I missing or needing in my life?” Are you feeling alone and wishing you had more friends or a new life partner? Maybe difficult situations have left you tired and discouraged or feeling depressed. Perhaps you don’t have much challenge or meaning in your life, making you bored or restless.

Before you reach for the first bite of comfort food, think about what’s empty or missing in your life, then ask yourself, “Will eating change this?” Of course, sometimes eating does make things better, at least for a while. But in reality, food won’t fix a hungry heart. Your real life is still there, filled with the same emptiness as before.

Filling your heart

When you’re facing empty emotions, you don’t need to pound on your pillow or exhaust yourself with exercise. At the first signs of heart hunger, seek out things that feel nurturing or comforting such as a warm bath or a massage. When you feel sad or lonely, you might find solace in listening to music or reading a good book. If you get bored easily, consider learning a new hobby or taking a class to awaken your brain.

Build a nurturing break into your day. Grab your favorite book of poetry or pull out your needlework, then slip on your headset and disappear into the music. Within a few minutes, you’ll have renewed your spirit instead of harming your waistline.

Sidebar tips: Create an “instead” list for heart hunger

Build a list of things you can do “instead” of eating when your heart is hungry. Here are some ideas to get you started. Whenever you need comfort, nurturing or love, reach for these “insteads” and take care of what your spirit really needs.

• Get outdoors. Plant flowers, dig in your vegetable garden, go for a hike or do other activities that involve nature.
• Hug or hold somebody and enjoy the healing power of touch. You might consider volunteering at a senior living center. Once you get to know the people there, hug them each time you visit.
• Get a massage. If that’s not an option at the moment, massage your own hands or feet with lotion scented with jasmine or lavender.
• Light lots of candles. Create a healing environment by using candles of varying sizes and shapes as well as your favorite fragrance such as bayberry or vanilla.
• Buy yourself a greeting card and pretend it came from your best friend. Write a love note in it and sign it. Mail it to yourself, then look forward to receiving it in a day or two.


Linda Spangle, RN, MA, is a weight-loss coach specializing in emotional eating, and the author of 100 Days of Weight Loss, a book of daily lessons that helps people stay committed to their diet and exercise plans. Contact Linda at Lspangle@aol.com. Her website is www.foodiseasy.com.

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