Emotional Eating: Fridge, a Tranquilizing Treasure Chest
Dr. Frigidaire PhD
I think I am not reporting anything new here---but rather reminding all those who don't mind being reminded about the fact of so many people using their fridge as the cheapest and always available therapist.
Ever since I took upon myself to do our grocery shopping, I get amused while standing in lineup, glancing at people's shopping carts and matching what I see in there to their physiques.
Almost regularly I notice all kinds of treats, some that I never knew existed explaining that spare tire around their waist and everything above and behind being a match to it.
As I am trying to make all that as discrete as possible, I also notice many of such obvious emotional eaters fretting and watching those in their immediate proximity. Somehow that reminds me of squirrels and some other animals at their feeding time, as they are watchful for other hungry animals around that might grab their food. I don't know if it's really something unconscious and animalistic that people display while "gathering/hunting" food, but it certainly does look that way to my ever inquisitive eye.
Emotional eaters---and mind you, there are so many of them among us judging by those mostly overweight folks to be seen everywhere---have developed a special sentiment about their food, because to them it's not only a biological need pampering their taste buds, but also a tranquilizer of a sort.
Eating---a Great Relaxant
Whether we are talking about boredom, anger, depression, worry, guilt, or anxiety, emotional eaters are making sure that there is always something in their fridge for a quick emotional fix.
Even the act of eating itself helps there, because digestion uses up enormous amount of available energy, stealing the energy from those crappy emotions. Similar effect is achieved by chewing gum, as body believes that we are about to eat, and digestion starts with chewing process.
Additionally, chewing on a gum relaxes facial muscles, notably jaw muscles which are quite tense with any degree of intolerance that we may feel. In these matters we can't but have in mind many quite animalistic urges, and chewing is not only suggestive of eating, but also of biting.
Just look at people how they start chewing faster when they get angry. It unconsciously helps them to discharge some of that hostility escalating in their nervous and hormonal systems.
So much fun can be derived by observing people who use their digestive equipment for dealing with their emotions. I like attributing as much animalism as I can think of to such behavior, because it appears to be so automatic and instinctual.
I also figure how eating helps to quiet down the fight-flight mechanism in our survival arsenal, by pulling all blood and nervous tension from muscles into the digestive process. Namely, in a state of fear/aggression our muscles get tense and digestion stops---so by mobilizing eating mechanism we reverse it, relaxing muscles with this "pacifier effect" so obvious at babies.
It seems like emotional eaters also prefer routinizing their choices of foods, having instinctually noticed that variety produces spikes of emotional stimulation, so they rather insist on sameness which dulls emotions. It's like taking another dosage of a proven remedy.
Another trick they use, of course, is overeating, or eating those heavy foods which take longer to digest. While I am not suggesting that you try anything of the sort, but if you walked beside a pride of lions right after they were eating, they might just give you a lazy look, with even their sense of territoriality not being aggravated by your presence.
Likewise, with a full stomach our emotional reactivity is greatly slowed down, and many emotional eaters know it too well, as they are enjoying that extra serotonin, or feel-good neurotransmitter. By the way, for the longest time I didn't know that our guts produce most of our serotonin---not our brains, as I had initially believed.
Food Won't Heal Stress
Well, body is an incredibly intricate machine which we all tend to take for granted too much. Whether you try to understand it at the level of cellular biology, or its chemo-electrical aspect, or its chi-energetic chakral system, or mind-body connection, or its responsiveness to environmental influences...etc., you soon realize how you are in the position of those proverbial three blind men describing an elephant.
Available books on these many topics are not helping much, as they oftentimes just elaborate on a separate aspect and like to call it "pivotal" to our well being. As far as my personal intellectual preferences go, I like the ancient Ayurveda's maxim: "Don't tell me where your body hurts, tell me where your life hurts".
Translating it to our theme at hand, our artificial hungers a.k.a. emotional eating are not something that food or omitting it can solve. At its best it can give us a temporary relief. In case of food allergies or sensitivities, yes, our emotions will benefit by excluding them from our diet, but even that won't take care of our negative emotions the way we would expect it.
Thus, let us not put too much faith into any of those ideas suggested by so called "orthomolecular psychiatry" which somehow connects our eating to our emotional states.
In my opinion, people are wasting too much money on vitamins and other nutrients by believing that their nerves are out of the whack due to a "chemical imbalance in brain".
I may be wrong there, but except for some severe deficiencies we are getting everything we need from our foods, organic or not---but our stress management sucks big time. And that brings us to the second portion of this article dealing with what I call "mental diet".
Filtering Out Mental Junk
In accordance with the Ayurvedic principle mentioned, we simply can't fill a void in our life with food that we eat. It is a self-deceiving similar to that one of a smoker or an alcoholic, not to make the rest of the list of our possible chemical crutches.
I used to be a chain-smoker, heavy coffee consumer, beer lover, and I just loved bread and sugary stuff. In those crazy years I was often dreaming of a time when I would quit it all and as the result enjoy a calm of a Dalai Lama.
Naïve ass, that's what I was. For, after quitting all that I was facing my crude truth of having built some neural pathways in my brain which were generating negativities---while all those chemical crutches were merely trying to minimize them. So, in a way I was putting a cart in front of the horse, by seeing my addictions as a "cause".
I am talking about myself here to make more credible the solution. You know, things sound differently when it's just a story being re-told, or when it comes from the first hand experience.
So I am attesting right here that with all that crap removed from my body I still had to take care of my emotional equilibrium the only way that it could be done.
Now, when I am talking about "my" particular equilibrium I am not saying that I used to be some kind of a jerk, but in a very relative sense. More precisely, I was already meditating and doing many things which made me a calm dude---but not as calm as I wanted to be.
So I had to do some re-modelling in my psycho-physical functioning.
Allowing the World to Be
Let me use a little metaphor for what happened during my mini-transformation. It was like I had built up a little treasure from within, but I allowed to be covered with the filth of negative observations about the world---not allowing it to shine and glitter in my conscious field.
Not until I decided to go on my mental diet and drop all that crap from the vision field of my mind did I start noticing that great improvement in my emoting. So much unnecessary input was bombarding my mind finding a nest in my neural pathways.
At times I felt like there were two of me, one that was deeply spiritual, and the other that somehow felt compelled to notice and analyze every crappy thing over which I had no control whatsoever.
During my meditations I was able to quiet it down, but not as much as I wanted to, and that's why I resorted to that major inner cleanse, that dieting which meant not "mentally consuming" any material which was not in harmony with my true identity.
I am not talking of anything esoteric here, but a mental move that so many folks could benefit from. Probably more than they could ever imagine. These days I could re-introduce some of that old crap, but now it has a completely different tone in my mind. It's attached to my humor, my satirical sense, and an attitude of allowing.
So I simply let the world be as they choose, knowing that no amount of my fussing will change one iota about it. In me it's not only intellectually so, but deep on my gut level. With a strong resolve I refuse to feel responsible for the world's stupidities, and don't feel called upon to clean a mess that I didn't start.
And that, my friends, is this mental diet that I am talking about. Emotional eating won't produce any of these results. Just like smoking pot or another addiction, eating without real hunger is a lazy mind's escape from reality. It produces temporary dulling of our attachment with our true self whose voice gets muffled by body's sensations of fullness.
With all pleasures of eating staying intact and allowed, we don't have to insist on creating happiness in our stomach instead of our minds and hearts.