[This is an excerpt from my contribution to Master Your Health in 5 Simple Steps: A Guide to Perfecting Your Customized Plan by Dr. Christina Fontana]
Here’s some food for thought: Are you eating because you are physically hungry? Are you reaching for that snack because you have a headache, are irritable, or just plain bored? Do you ask yourself these questions every time you eat?
If you don’t, perhaps this chapter will help explain why it may be a good idea to check in with yourself at every meal. This practice may help you listen to your body’s signals and pay attention to what you’re really hungry for.
For a couple of years now, I have been mulling over the concept of ‘eating to fill a void.’ It seems to me that mindful eating is absent even from the best of us. Our modern lives inhibit us from consciously slowing down and being grateful for each meal that we ingest. I often feel that my hunger is fueled not by physical need but rather by an emotional void that is begging to be filled. Usually the most accessible way to quiet your inner spiritual desires is to eat. Giving in to your inner gluttony temporarily silences the roaming mind or restless soul.
In fact, I noticed through historical/religious references and personal experiences, that spirituality and food have an inverse relationship. All the great prophets, saints, Buddhists and energy healers have had a period of fasting after which they reached their greatest spiritual conduit with a higher being, and had a ‘transcendent’ or enlightening experience as a result. All major religions usually have a period of fasting or modified fasting at least yearly as part of a physical and spiritual ‘cleanse’ to get followers closer to the divine. Similarly, artists, musicians and other creative individuals usually get in a state of mental flow and highest focus when they ‘turn off’ their physical cravings for food. Sometimes they work on a level of higher vibration or frequency all day long and forget to eat, because they are so attuned mentally and emotionally to their craft that it overpowers physical pangs.
On the other hand, those of us with less than stimulating outlets for our spiritual needs feel the physical cravings all too familiarly. When we are lacking fulfillment, unhappy, guilty, self-pitying or plain bored, we turn to ‘sinful behavior’ to shut our negative thoughts off. Some choose to bury their sorrows in booze, cigarettes, drugs, sex, or risky pastimes such as adrenaline-pumping extreme sports or gambling. What these all have in common is that they are addictive behaviors meant to ‘distract’ us from the painful reality. What most people don’t realize is that their eating habits may be just as bad of a trap. Food is a silent sinful culprit because it is a necessary means of our survival. However, eating has turned from a basic survival mechanism to a guilt-ridden, complex and emotional stressor rather than a nourishing tonic.
So, let’s back up and start at the basics here. Why do we eat?
We eat not only for physical sustenance, but we gather at social functions to celebrate, be merry, and symbolically show mutual respect and trust when we ‘break bread together’. We eat dinner as a family, because ‘a family that eats together, stays together.’ But just like an alcoholic addict will be a ‘closet drinker,’ drinking in isolation and in excess, so can a person develop an unhealthy relationship with food. People range from binge eating, anorexia/bulimia to anorexia, and everything in between, landing in different spots of the ‘food addict’ spectrum. But what all of these conditions have in common is an emotional basis. They use food to call attention to a deeper underlying cause, most often a self-esteem driven one. People who don’t feel adequate worth, respect, or love for themselves turn to fear-based behaviors including, perfectionism, or self-abuse. They try to achieve the perfect figure by not eating, or throw the towel in by overindulging. Both of these are a form of corporeal punishment, where the physical body suffers due to emotional unhappiness.
My conclusion from this observation is simple: we need more fulfillment in our lives. Yes, modernity comes with a whole set of issues that the aboriginal human may not have faced. We now live longer and with more ‘conveniences’ but yet are suffering from debilitating chronic diseases, and soul-penetrating emotional disturbances. We no longer have to worry about survival from one moment to the next, but the built-in defense mechanisms of fear and adrenal overdrive still pervade our evolved psycho-physiology. Without imminent threat hanging over our heads makes it hard for us appreciate each moment. Our lives stretch out as lengthy voids promising nothing but boredom.
So what is the solution? How can we stop this cycle of madness?
Yes, there is a constructive light at the end of the tunnel here, and it’s called: intuitive eating. This is a mindful practice of listening to your body, recognizing signals and properly identifying the best way to address them. But in order to hear clearly, we need to stop, slow down from the hectic pace of our lives, and quietly tune into ourselves. We need to develop a trusting and loving relationship with our inner voice. The more we listen, the more confidence and strength we give to the voice, and eventually it starts to speak louder and more frequently to us.
Here are some suggestions to help you build your intuitive eating muscles:
Last, but not least, I want to address our self-destructive emotional eating patterns. How can we deal with our bad habits and addictions? In order to overcome our obsession with distractions (including overindulging on food), we must bring more meaning into life! Here are some suggestions:
~Dr. Marina Book