Emotions too often make a toxic stew affecting our relationship with food. Sahaja Coventry sees an answer to this daily conflict that affects so many people
Tomorrow I’m definitely giving up sugar. I’ll just have one last piece of Lindt chocolate tonight. Tomorrow I am sugar- free - that’s final! Well refined sugar-free. Maybe it’s the dairy - I will give up the dairy. Okay, if dairy is going, one last pizza tonight. Mmmm, white flour - I don’t want to eat bread - all those bad, bad carbohydrates. But the brain needs glucose so maybe I need some carbohydrates. One piece of sourdough bread a day should be fine…but not white, only multigrain. Stop! Stop the Food Fight!
Okay, maybe your version isn’t exactly like this but many of you might recognise a comparable scenario of internal chatter around your daily eating. For people who have had weight issues, it is very familiar. The many voices, conflicting information, the diets, the successes, the failures… Meanwhile, self esteem is diminishing while precious energy gets spent on what is meant to be a very natural part of life, our daily nutrition.
The reality is that even people who don’t have a weight issue can also get caught up in this mental activity. For some it is strong, for others it is subtle but still pervasive. The question is what is really going on here, is this really about the food?
Many people who are competent and successful in many areas of life find that when it comes to ‘willpower’, they don’t feel successful at all. They may feel weak, helpless and out of control when it comes to the area of consumption.
Findings in neuroscience have revealed that most decisions are made based on our emotional reactions and our needs. What we consciously intend to choose isn’t what is unconsciously making the choices. Enter the limbic system: a complex system of nerves and networks in the brain that controls the basic emotions and drives. Being driven by this more primal part of our brain can ultimately affect every area of our life.
Those of you who don’t have this issue probably find it quite odd and might say, ‘You should eat food to fuel the body. It’s not entertainment, it’s just sustenance.’
Many people don’t experience food as merely fuel for the body. Food has become the comfort, the reward or the arena where emotions get ameliorated or put to sleep. Other people may use cigarettes or alcohol or shopping or excessive work. In truth, the issue is the same. ‘What can I get occupied with so I don’t have to feel what is really going on.’
Some people find that after they settle with a loving partner or find their dream job, they naturally lose weight as the food fight subsides. And then as the honeymoon ends, the food fight returns. Feeling defeated yet again, the downward spiral continues whether it shows up as excess weight, ill health, negative moods or low energy. As the issues and challenges of life resurface, the pattern of focusing on food returns to fulfil its function - to protect us from our feelings.
Whether the issue is a weight problem, a rigidity around diet such as healthy versus mainstream diet, or any sort of eating disorder subtle or not, the possibility is there to heal. I spent many years in my teens and young adult life eating an American junk food diet - when life was more challenging the ‘junk’ ratio got higher. After serious health issues stopped me in my tracks 20 years ago, I was forced to see what damage this habit had on my health. I intuitively knew that healing my relationship with food was paramount to returning to a life of balance and health. Inevitably, even if the food fight doesn’t result in excess weight, it affects other areas of life.
In the last two years, after teaching macrobiotic/wholefoods cooking for 18 years, I also saw the rigidity that any strong belief or dogma could bring. (Medicines become poisons and vice versa.) A beautiful story by an early teacher of macrobiotics, Herman Aihara, goes like this… He went to a community of macrobiotic followers and found them to be so tight and rigid in their bodies and beliefs. He piled the lot of them into a van and took them to the local diner and ordered apple pie for each of them. I can imagine their shock at his authentic teaching that went beyond the rules. He taught them that even balance needs to be balanced.
Braco in Australia
Recently, I organised the first event in Australia with Braco, the Croatian man with a gift of positive transformation through his silent gaze. I had the opportunity to speak with him about food and diet, and he shared that he felt everybody should be open to trying all foods and then they could eat what they wish or what the body requires. This is an indication what freedom might look like - to let the body decide, to be free of those issues that don’t allow us to eat what we wish or truly need.
Unfortunately, when the food fight is playing out, it is hard to distinguish between the need of the body and that of the addictive desire of the mind. Sometimes a genuine need of the body gets ignored because of an opposing belief. We can be so tricky around food. We all know the difference between choosing freely and feeling driven.
I found I also resonated with the work of Geneen Roth, Oprah’s favourite on addressing compulsive eating and weight issues spiritually. She views the compulsive dance around diet as something to be addressed in satsang (satsang: in the company of Truth). Her book Women, Food and God identifies the pattern (not just for women) of using food to shut down feelings. In a space of awareness, one can meet the feelings and the early conditionings, the beliefs, the vows that put the pattern in place and use the food fight as an opportunity to dive into our true Self. The struggle and the emotions actually become the doorway to our core, our divine essence.
Who would have thought that something so pervasive as an unhealthy relationship with food could become a path to a deeper awareness of Self. Not only can it be a portal to find freedom in this area of life, but it can free up other areas of life through addressing the root issues. No special skill is required, no temporary willpower - just the wish and the will and the methodology to resolve unwanted habits.
And, finally when we can connect with our essence, that which is capable of accepting the unacceptable, loving the unlovable, forgiving and letting go, we find our true source of nourishment. Then we know what feeling full is really about!
Kevin Billet, founder of Visionary Leadership work and partner to Brandon Bays pioneer of The Journey™, has created a two day experiential workshop called Stop the Food Fight. Kevin invited Sahaja to facilitate this successful, international workshop because of her long-time passion working with people in areas of diet, emotions and health. She is delighted to be offering it for the first time in Perth at the Beacon Yoga Centre on October 5-6, 2013. Find out more at www.thegreatlife.com.au or make online bookings at www.stopthefoodfight.org