Published: April 20, 2023

Register for event

Parsing seven different kinds of hunger, an April 26 Let’s CU Well presentation to discuss honoring your hunger and emotions with kindness

Kathleen Farrell wants to talk about your relationship.

Specifically, your relationship with food. 

Farrell is a registered dietitian nutritionist who works at the Clinical Translation Research Center (CTRC) as a research dietitian, but for about six years she worked as a clinical dietitian for Wardenburg Student Health Center at the University of Colorado Boulder. In that time, she came to understand that many students—and many people in general—have a complicated relationship with food.

While at Wardenburg, Farrell created a handout called the Hunger Tree. She started to ask students: What are you really hungry for? She says it’s key to know what to eat, but just as important to know why you are eating. 

Image of Kathleen Farrell

Kathleen Farrell nutures relationships with food in her seminar, Honor Your Hunger and Emotions with Kindness.

Register for event

For some, food can be a subject loaded with meaning and emotion. To some degree, everyone fuels themselves differently—physically, and emotionally. Thus, Farrell uses her hunger tree to get a better understanding of why someone is eating—emotionally versus for a physiological reason. Hunger can be complicated, Farrell says, partly because there are actually seven different types of hunger: 

  1. Stomach hunger—actual physical hunger
  2. Mouth hunger—a desire for the taste of a certain food
  3. Eye hunger—desiring a food based on its appearance
  4. Nose hunger—desiring a certain food based on its smell
  5. Mind hunger—what a person’s mind is telling them about a food
  6. Heart hunger—a desire for foods associated with emotions
  7. Cellular hunger—when the body indicates it has need for a nutrient

While it can be acceptable to eat something in response to any type of hunger, Farrell says it can be valuable to understand the underlying reason for the desire.

Farrell uses this example: In the case of heart hunger, what the person might really desire is not food but a hug from a loved one. In that case, the person may be using food as a stand-in for what is really needed because they are “emotionally hungry.”


Making peace with food

For Farrell, a big part of her focus is helping people make peace with food. 

One place where inner conflict over food can arise in individuals is from imposition of a diet that is overly restrictive, which Farrell says can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and sometimes binge-eating.

“Wanting to lose some weight—that hunger for change—is totally fine,” she says. “But if it comes to where you’re not giving yourself permission to enjoy food in a healthy way, that can lead to problems.”

Instead, Farrell says she encourages students to moderate themselves. For example, if someone says they love ice cream but are not sure if they should have some, Farrell says she would tell them, “Enjoy it. Have a bowl of ice cream but have a smaller portion size. Maybe try to enhance it by putting some blueberries or almonds on it.”

Meanwhile, to avoid over-eating, Farrell advises people to “feel their fullness.” That means listening for internal body signals that indicate fullness, observing signs of being comfortably full, and pausing in the middle of eating to ask how the food tastes and to determine one’s current fullness level.

Farrell will share additional views on food and what it means to be at peace with food during her upcoming seminar, Honor Your Hunger and Emotions with Kindness. This event is scheduled as a Zoom presentation starting at noon on Wednesday, April 26. The event is free, but registration is required at this link.

The event is part of the Let’s CU Well speaker series for CU staff, students and the general public. The series is part of Be Well, an initiative launched by the College of Arts and Sciences to promote more healthful lifestyle choices.

Don’t expect Farrell to talk at length about dieting in her presentation, because she believes people are better served by focusing on “eating mindfully” (paying attention to what they are eating) rather than focusing strictly on their caloric intake. 

“When I talk about honoring your hunger with kindness, part of what I mean is not being too hard on yourself,” she says. “A lot of times, we might set a goal for ourselves, but we might fall short. And it’s important just being able to say, ‘I wasn’t able to meet my goal for the day but it’s OK.’

“We do not need to strive for perfection. Perfection is just too hard to maintain. Instead, progress is what I look for. It is really about sustainability.”

Event Details

Honor Your Hunger & Emotions with Kindness

When: Apr 26, 2023 12:00 p.m. MT
Where: Zoom

Register for event