Are you Eating to Satisfy an Emotional Hunger?

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 to 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.

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, here comes the less depressing and more constructive part of my rant: how do we deal with our addictions? In order to overcome our obsession with distractions, we must bring more meaning into life! Here are some suggestions:

  1. First, realize that you are not infallible; making and learning from mistakes is all part of the beautiful experience of being human.
  2. It is better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all. The worst risk of all is not to take a chance. If you don't fail, you don't learn the lesson. Insert success/failure adages here.
  3. Being your true, authentic self is what will set you free. Really tune into yourself and try to channel that inner voice of truth in your outward actions. Don't let society, parents, friends and media influence you (too much) and just do you. Your heart will lead the way.
  4. Nothing fulfills you like knowing your life is making a difference. Whether it's on a large-scale world revolutionizing level, or having helped just one person feel better, you are making a monumental positive impact. Help spread the joy and influence others by your good deeds. As they say, no good deed is altruistic, because a direct side effect is that it makes you feel better about yourself. That's what I call 2 birds with one stone (or rather, helping two birds with one deed?)!
  5. Find your passion and do your best to touch base with it daily. Incorporate it into your daily routine, in whatever small amount possible. Fill your day with things that make you happy so that you don't have to drown in your sorrows at night (with cookies or reality TV or other addictive substances).
  6. Practice gratitude. Keep an appreciation journal, or say grace before meals (bonus: adds mindfulness to your eating habits!), or thank your loved ones habitually. Express to the universe that you are thankful for the things you already have (and once you start counting, you will realize it's a lot!) and more things to be thankful for will follow. "Like calls to like," "the Secret," the "Law of Attraction," are all different ways of saying the same thing.
  7. Speaking of the Universe, having a devoted relationship to the higher powers is known to bring meaning to life. No matter if you follow an organized religion or have your own personal spiritual practice, it all boils down to the same thing: belief in something greater than yourself. That conviction alone can comfort us and bathe us in the everlasting love of life that we so want to have faith in.

Love is the ultimate weapon against fear. We don't have to fight our fears or diseases. We just have to build love and health by the practices outlined above. The bad will diminish automatically when we build and strengthen the good.

Live rawly friends,

~Marina