The first question was, when feelings of "hunger" arose was simply, "Am I really hungry?" Rather than being reactive, non-aware, and assuming that feelings and thoughts and images that might arise were, or are, ipso factor, real physical hunger, I resolved to look into that arising. I stopped, and looked into it. What did I feel? Where did I feel it? Was this feeling I was calling "hunger" in my stomach? Was it in my mouth? Was it in my throat? If I stopped and just sat with what was arising, under my full, compassionate attention, did the feeling stand up as being a physical need—actual physical hunger? (If one has become out of touch with what genuine hunger feels like, then compassionately but courageously looking into the reasons and motives for that can be extremely helpful—indeed, necessary—in bringing eating and the body back into balance.)
Interestingly, of course, I saw that sometimes I was in fact hungry, with a physical hunger, or need arising out of the body's biological needs. But more often, the hunger was seen to be, with mindful attention, something else entirely—an emotional thing, a feeling, a craving, an emptiness, that had little if anything to do with what actual physical hunger feels like.
Then, my second question was this: "What do I need to do to take care of myself?" If I really did need food, then I would seek out food, but mindfully, and with awareness of what was going on with the food choices, and mindfulness of when I was actually full from eating, giving my body time to register the food and send the signals to my brain that I was satiated. (Science tells me that this chemical signal is not instant but takes at least 10-15 minutes from the time you start eating; which is why it can be easy to over eat if you are not also listening to how full your stomach feels and what feels "just right.") I also often found that the "hunger" was really thirst and that what drinking some water or having some green tea was just what I needed.
Thich Nhat Hanh often uses) of eating to get rid of stress and attention had arisen. The seeming "hunger" was in fact a call to take care of some "crying baby" in my feelings or emotions that needed my attention. It was clear that eating food to quell the emotional need, or stress, was a big mistake, bad for my general health, and did not feed the "crying baby" but rather only made it more ravenous and frustrated. (In my case, I know that this is how binge eating has arisen in the past.)
In any even, the point of "What is it that I really need" is to stop the causal chain of action and reaction and to become aware of what's arising and the causes and conditions that led to that arising (insofar as you can see that with even a little attention.) Sometimes I found that what I really needed was to stop and take a short walk, and just relax, and let go. At other times, I sensed what I needed to do was to take care of something I had been avoiding, instead of eating to narcotize my stress and anxiety. And so on.
I hope what I've shared has been helpful. For most of us, eating and self-nurture are tied to very powerful feeling and memories, good and bad. Mindfulness is a powerful tool for awakening, and it all begins when we stop and pay attention to what is really going on.
Asking skillful questions like "Am I really hungry" and "What is it that I really need?" can further our investigation into what's happening and what's going on below the surface of things. Mindfulness and skillful means illuminate the road to freedom and foster a genuine self-control that is the result of letting go of thoughts, feelings, and actions that are, in fact, not-self, but merely transient self-fabrications.