We typically think of overcoming overeating as serious drudgery involving boring restrictions – and how long can anyone stick to a goal that way?
Here’s a game-changing perspective in which overcoming overeating results from actually bringing more natural pleasures into your life.
Overeating can provide temporary relief from emotional pain, from anxiety, and even boredom. We keep eating because we want the fleeting and immediate pleasure that food brings to last. But what we are really craving is lasting pleasure, the kind that fills our soul.
Food is designed to be pleasurable, so once we begin to notice how pleasurable healthy food choices are, we can substitute them in for more and more unhealthy food choices, creating new pleasurable good habits that don’t leave harmful effects on our bodies like junk food does. Over time, n ew neural pathways are formed because of the neuroplasticity of our brains, so the new delightful habits of eating fresh fruit instead of cake become more deeply satisfying, especially since the pleasure is not accompanied by any negative repercussions.
And yes, when we enjoy this healthy food, it does “crowd out” the room in our stomach for the unhealthy stuff. But in general, when we are overeating, it is not our bodies that are hungry – it’s our souls.
So to fill the emptiness within, in addition to subbing in healthier food choices, we can also add more lasting pleasure into our lives by spending time in nature, stretching, practicing gratitude, learning ancient wisdom, dancing to music we love, being creative, and spreading kindness. And with this awareness, we can actually get in the habit of reaching for one of these non-food pleasures instead of a big bag of potato chips when we are feeling lonely, bored or stressed.
When we fill up our days with a variety of the abundance of things in this world that can bring us greater levels of pleasure, the emotional pain also gets crowded out. And we are not distracting ourselves by adding more spiritual pleasures to our lives. We are fulfilling our genuinely deep needs. Food addictions, with the temporary comfort from emotional pain that they provide, are the distractions.
With the conscious awareness that people overeat because they want more lasting pleasure in their lives, the person who feels like overeating is empowered to bring more lasting pleasure into their lives through an abundance of pleasures greater than the fleeting comfort from junk food they were habitually using (with many deleterious effects) to try to experience lasting pleasure. People can get in the habit of realizing that if they need more pleasure in their lives, there is no scarcity – which is what they fear – and then they are empowered to bring more lasting pleasure in to their lives in a great variety of other simple and attainable ways instead of eating junk.
As we get in the habit of asking ourselves, “Is it my body that is hungry or my soul?” when we feel like overeating, we will start reaching for a much greater variety of joyful and more meaningful pleasures instead of being stuck with food being the most salient kind of pleasure in our lives. And one day we will notice that those bags of potato chips and chocolate bars have stopped calling our names so loudly.
Widespread food addictions are messaging us that our souls are starving. There is a gnawing emptiness inside. What we are genuinely craving is the lasting pleasure found in spiritual nourishment since we are all spiritual beings, housed in physical bodies. And we need spiritual nourishment, just as we need physical nourishment, throughout each day in order to thrive in life.
Addictions develop in order to fill the gnawing emptiness in side, but what we are craving is lasting pleasure. That’s what fills our hungry souls and lets them shine.
Yo-yo dieting persists because people try to stop overeating through temporary physical means, trying different kinds of diets repeatedly. We have been trying desperately to solve a spiritual deficit through physical means, when it is spiritual nourishment that hits the spot.
When you feel like overeating to self-soothe, ask yourself this one question that creates a mindfulness moment, “Is it my body that is hungry – or my soul?” And with loving awareness, you will know the answer. Then you will be able to provide yourself that very moment with more lasting pleasure than the food you are overeating in order to try and make the pleasure keep lasting. You may want to step outside to feel a gentle breeze, turn on some music and start stretching, or call or text someone lonely. Whatever works, fills the emptiness inside and lets your hungry soul shin e with the nourishment it was genuinely craving.
Research has shown that it takes over 200 repetitions to develop a new habit, but when done joyfully, the new habit synapses can rewire in just 10 repetitions. In other words, the most efficient – and most enjoyable – way for a new healthy eating habit – or any worthwhile habit – to form is to do it through bringing greater and more lasting pleasure into one’s life! So the next time you feel like overeating, instead try filling your hungry soul with lasting pleasure!