As a nutritionist many times, most times, people just want me to tell them how to eat to feel better, look younger, address a certain condition or to lose weight. All of which are important reasons to change one’s way of eating and yet what I have found is that telling someone how to eat is robbing them of a chance for deep personal insight and authentic change. Food is a deeply psychological and emotional part of one’s life. I like to think of food as the most intimate relationship a person has other than with him or herself. We do it multiple times a day everyday and for a multitude of reasons whether it be sincere hunger, emotions, nerves, communing with friends and family or just plain old boredom. Over the course of one’s life a person develops dietary habits, likes and dislikes, and psychological and emotional reward systems around food based on their experience in childhood with their parents, grandparents, extended family and close family friends. I like to call this one’s personal and familial karma with food and eating and it is this karma that one is working out in the life of the soul with the food choices he or she makes.
From the perspective of my work I identify the soul as being the forces of thinking, feeling, will impulses, drives, desires, passions, and instincts. Our thoughts, stories and judgements stimulate particular feelings and the combination of those thoughts and feelings together influence ones will forces, whether they be conscious or unconscious, to make certain choices and follow through with a particular action. It is our ability to identify our thoughts and feelings, along with the underlying needs that our feelings are an expression of, that allows us to free ourselves from past programming and bring healing and harmony to our soul life. Many times though, our actions are just driving forces of unconscious will activity that were programmed into us as children and young adults and this includes the choices made around food. This could be the person who’s mother comforted her with food as a child and now as an adult reaches for food, even when not hungry (usually food of a specific nature like sugar), to provide comfort in a time of emotional distress. The motives for the eating aren’t inspected and the action is done without thinking about the needs that are trying to be fulfilled. It’s just a stimulus-response loop that is occurring within the individual’s neural network, like a scratch on a record or cd it just keeps repeating. The person may know that it’s not healthy or that they are emotionally eating but the drive to do it may be so strong or it’s buried so deep in one’s subconscious that the action is comparable to being on auto-pilot.
So when a person comes to me for help changing their diet and wants me to tell them what to eat I realize that it’s just not that simple. Telling someone what to eat will help them make changes but those changes will most likely only be temporary. I find that true lasting change occurs when one takes up the task of identifying and healing their personal and family karma around food and then through that process learning to listen to what their body is saying and needing. One approach I like to use is the cultivation of self-empathy. Self-empathy allows one to become aware of the thoughts, stories, judgements and feelings one has around food and the underlying needs that are trying to be met. If I can become aware of my thinking and feelings around food and then through self-inquiry discover what I’m really wanting or needing my will impulses or actions can be more in alignment with what is best for me.
Sticking with the previous example, a person under emotional duress can implement self-empathy by first becoming aware their stimulus response pattern, “when I’m emotionally triggered I eat.” “What are all the thoughts, stories and judgements that arise for me from this awareness? What feelings do they stimulate, sadness, anger, disappointment, confusion? What am I needing, respect, love, understanding, clarity, compassion? What can I do in this moment to truly nourish myself and meet the underlying needs of my feelings rather than eat?” This process can happen in just seconds and can provide one with greater awareness of their thoughts, feelings and needs, which then allows for healthy action. It also effectively breaks karmic patterns because it’s changing one’s thinking and cultivating a new and conscious will force.
Just like any new mindfulness exercise it takes practice to develop it into a honed skill but the more one does it the more one will learn to listen to their body and honor it’s true needs. As this capacity increases so too does clarity of thinking, acceptance of feelings, understanding of needs and consciousness of will impulses. In short, healthy soul forces are strengthened, healing is tangible and freedom and love are the reward.