Kuchisabishii and Lonely Mouth Syndrome

Kuchisabishii and Lonely Mouth Syndrome / Alessandra Edwards

Last week I came across ‘Kuchisabishii’, a Japanese word that perfectly describes the loss of control that many, otherwise-in-control leaders experience when it comes to their snacking habits.

‘When you’re not hungry and you eat because your mouth is lonely’.

Let’s be honest.

How many times – especially since COVID-19 has given you 24-hr access to the fridge and pantry – have you wondered aimlessly into the kitchen area, opened the fridge and methodically scanned its contents, almost scientifically trying to match the vague, internal feeling of dissatisfaction with the perfect food that would just scratch that itch?

You’re not alone. While lonely mouth syndrome is not new, it is now sweeping the globe faster than you can say ‘Nutella with chips ’ (no judgement please).

Based on my experience of working with thousands of stressed-out leaders, lonely mouth is a massive detractor to performance and number nine on my Top Ten Performance Mistakes Leaders Make (you can read about #10 here).

Spotlight on genes

Like many behaviours, Kuchisabishii can be driven by genetics. For example, many of my clients with a variant of the ‘snacking gene’ find it difficult to feel full as their brain does not register satiety efficiently. This gene also increases their craving for high fat, high calorie foods and leads to overeating and increased weight.

However, beyond the DNA pull, increased stress levels or isolation can also drive lonely mouth syndrome numbers up. This is because the mouth, and, specifically the tongue is actually related to how ‘full’ of self-love we are. Think about it, when we are babies, feeding is one of the primary ways in which we feel safe and loved.

It is interesting to note that in Traditional Chinese Medicine the tongue is the sense organ of the heart. Its primary emotions are joy, love and happiness. Many business leaders I work with have led full, deeply fulfilling lives from a professional perspective but often that has come at a price – the disconnect from self and self-love, which usually manifests as the inability to maintain self-care habits and the loss of intimacy with their significant other (no, loss of intimacy is not all related to the menopause and andropause).

You will know if you’re experiencing this disconnect because as well as feeling tired and having lost your joy and vibrancy you may also be prone to playing the blaming game with others (the ‘difficult team’ or the ‘not supportive spouse’ or the ‘lack of time’) or self (‘imposter syndrome’, ‘perfectionism’, ‘high achiever at all costs’).

From a performance perspective, lonely mouth does not help us to sustain our physical or emotional stamina. It is just a Band-Aid, a distraction from a deeper disconnect to self.

As the inspiring Brené Brown says ‘Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we’ll ever do’.

Here is a Smart Hack for dealing with Lonely Mouth Syndrome.