Hungers that need feeding: on the normativity of mindful nourishment

Drawing on participant observation in a ‘mindful weight loss’ course offered in the Netherlands, this paper explores the normative register through which mindfulness techniques cast people in relation to concerns with overeating and body weight.

Drawing on participant observation in a ‘mindful weight loss’ course offered in the Netherlands, this paper explores the normative register through which mindfulness techniques cast people in relation to concerns with overeating and body weight. The women seeking out mindfulness use eating to cope with troubles in their lives and are hindered by a preoccupation with the size of their bodies. Mindfulness coaches aim to help them let go of this ‘struggle with eating’ by posing as the central question: ‘what  do I really hunger after?’ The self’s hungers include ‘belly hunger’ but also stem from mouths, hearts, heads, noses and eyes. They cannot all be fed by food. The techniques detailed in this paper focus on recognizing and disentangling one’s hungers; developing self-knowledge of and a sensitivity to what ‘feeds’ one’s life; and the way one  positions oneself in relation to oneself and the world. While introducing new norms, the course configures ‘goods’ and ‘bads’ in different ways altogether, shaping the worlds  people come to inhabit through engaging in self-care. In particular, the hungering body is foregrounded as the medium through which life is lived. Taking a material semiotic approach, this paper makes an intervention by articulating the normative register of nourishment in contrast to normalization. Thus, it highlights anthropologists’ potential  strengthening of different ways of doing normativity.

Download (pdf)