Healing Heart Hunger
by Peggy Farah, MPS
There is a collective awakening currently taking place. People all over the planet are beginning to link overeating with unfed emotional and spiritual hungers and are taking a new view towards the problem of obesity. We are beginning to realize that diet and exercise alone cannot fully address the problem; there is a deeper craving that must be considered. In 2010, author Geneen Roth published her groundbreaking book Women Food and God which critiqued the diet industry and gave us an opportunity to explore the emotional and spiritual issues that cause us to eat when we are not physically hungry.
There is a whole continuum of emotions that drive people to eat when they are not hungry. We eat for comfort from emotional pain or to sedate difficult feelings such as sadness, loneliness, boredom or stress. Sometimes we eat to the point of extreme discomfort as a self-loathing way of punishing ourselves. When we engage in this, we mistakenly think that food provides an escape or an answer. However, as Geneen Roth points out, once the eating is over, guilt about the eating is layered on to the emotion that drove us toward the food in the first place.
There is also the more subtle and perhaps more insidious type of emotional eating. This has to do with eating when there is no obvious emotional trigger; no major sadness, no anger, no big stressor but also no physical hunger; yet we find ourselves standing in our kitchens with all the cupboards open searching for something. This is a much harder experience to understand. I describe it as a generalized ‘dis-ease’, an emptiness that we are trying to fill. For many of us it results from an underlying lack of knowledge and certainty of our inherent worth. This can lead to a pervasive sense of isolation and disconnection… Enter Mindfulness.
Mindfulness is emerging as an incredibly powerful practice in many arenas of physical and psychological health and it has huge implications for helping us with the issue of emotional eating. The term mindfulness, which originates from Buddhism, has to do with bringing our total attention and focus to the experience of the moment without any judgment or mental comment. We often live in a way where we are wrapped up in thoughts about the past or the future and largely out of touch with our present reality. Many of us are very disconnected from the actual experience of our bodies. We don’t really recognize hunger or satiety cues because we are not comfortable in nor connected to our own body. Through mindfulness we bring ourselves completely into the present moment, it is like entering the moment with a magnifying glass allowing us to expand all of our sensory function. We become fully and completely aware.
When we bring mindfulness to the experience of eating we are not only totally aware of the food but also fully present in our own bodies as we eat it. As a result we can begin to sense subtleties such as emotional states and physical sensation that may have otherwise been out of the grasp of our understanding. It is this clarity that allows us to discern our true physical and emotional needs and make choices to better serve those needs. Being present allows us to quiet our mind long enough to hear the call of our heart and the cries of our body. We then can recognize that we are not physically hungry but instead, for example, feel the tight sensation in our chest that tells us we are anxious, or perhaps the heaviness that tells us we are lonely.
One of the biggest gifts of mindfulness is that it results in what I call compassionate curiosity. We non-judgmentally notice what is going on within us and become deeply curious. Unlike the experience of a diet that we “fail”, we can observe unwanted behavior in a way that releases all shame and guilt. Once we notice that we are reaching for food out of emotional hunger we can choose to recognize and be with the emotion or we may continue to eat anyway but at least then we are making a conscious choice to do so. There is power in the awareness. We are no longer in the grip of our eating behavior, a space has been created; we become an observer, separated from the behavior. In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle describes presence as a “transformative agent”. Indeed, by just becoming mindfully aware that we are emotionally eating we begin to slowly shift our eating behaviors.
This is the discovery that resulted in the Deeper Cravings program: that presence is the missing link in healing food and body issues. So much needless pain is caused by not being at home in our bodies. Every moment we spend obsessing over losing weight, berating ourselves for overeating and feeling like we are not enough because of a number on a scale are precious opportunities for joy in the moment that are lost on us. There is an incredible gift in being able to simply be without judgment, without interpretation. In this clarity we can connect with our body and begin to actually embrace it. An enormous love is created, for self, for one another and for the world we inhabit. Presence gives us a glimpse of our true selves, and it is intoxicating. When we wake up and truly embrace the present moment from within the body, whatever size it may be at the time, we instantly quiet the dis-ease within us. We then naturally learn how to nourish our body and feed our lives.
Peggy Farah, Deeper Cravings
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