What Are You Hungry For?

It sounds like a paradox, but to lose weight, you need to fill yourself up. If you fill yourself up with other kinds of satisfaction, food will no longer be a problem. It was never meant to be. Eating is a natural way to feel happy. Overeating isn’t. For centuries life has been celebrated at feasts, and some of these celebrations, such as wedding banquets and retirement dinners, can be the highlight of a person’s life. What child doesn’t brighten up when the birthday cake appears? But the delight that food brings makes overeating a peculiar and unique problem. Feeling happy, which is good for you, slides into something that’s bad for you.
At this moment you fall somewhere on the sliding scale that connects food with happiness:

Normal eating – Overeating – Cravings – Food Addiction

Eating normally feels good.

Overeating feels good in the moment but leads to bad results in the long run.

Giving in to cravings doesn’t feel good at all—remorse, guilt, and frustration set in almost immediately.

Being addicted to food brings suffering, declining health, and total lack of self-esteem.

So why does normal eating start to slide into overeating? The simple answer: lack of fulfilment. You start overeating to make up for a lack somewhere else. Looking back on my medical residency, when I was still in my twenties, I can see now how bad eating habits insinuate themselves. I’d come home from a gruelling shift at the hospital feeling stressed out. My mind was still filled with a dozen cases. Some patients were still in jeopardy. What awaited me at home was a loving wife and a home-cooked meal.

In terms of getting enough calories, sitting down to dinner met all the requirements. You had to look at the human situation to see the hidden problems. I had hit the coffee machine and grabbed snacks on the run at work. From lack of sleep I didn’t really notice what I was eating. The minute I walked in the door I usually had a drink, and there was a half-empty pack of cigarettes lying around somewhere.

In the seventies I was a normal working male following the same habits as every other young doctor I knew. I counted myself extremely fortunate to have such a loving wife and two beautiful babies at home. But the ravenous way I dug into a nourishing home-cooked dinner, combined with all the other signs of stressed eating, was setting a pattern that was desperately wrong. Ironically, even back then I considered myself pretty aware.

The body can restore balance

What turned the corner was becoming much more aware—the solution I’m proposing in this book. No matter how much it gets abused, the body can restore balance. The first rule is to stop interfering with nature. In its natural state, the brain controls hunger automatically. When your blood sugar falls below a certain level, messages are sent to an almond-sized region of the brain known as the hypothalamus, which is responsible for regulating hunger. When it receives messages of decreased blood sugar, your hypothalamus secretes hormones to make you feel hungry, and when you’ve eaten enough, the hormones reverse, making you no longer hungry. This feedback loop between blood and brain operates on its own, as it has for millions of years. Any animal with a spinal cord (vertebrate) has a hypothalamus, which makes sense, because hunger is so basic.

But in humans, hunger can get interfered with quite easily. The way we feel emotionally can make us ravenous or unable to eat at all. We can be distracted and forget to eat, or we can be obsessed and think about food all day. However, we are always in search of satisfaction. There are lots of things you can fill up on besides food. Desire comes from need, starting with the most basic ones:

  1. Everyone needs to feel safe and secure.
  2. Everyone needs to feel nurtured.
  3. Everyone needs to feel loved and appreciated.
  • Everyone needs to feel that their life is relevant and meaningful.
    If you have filled these needs, food will be just one delight out of many. But countless people turn to overeating to substitute for what they really want. It becomes a game of switch-up, and often they don’t even see what’s happening. Is that the situation you find yourself in? Here are some common indicators.

You don’t feel secure unless you are dulled by eating too much. Dullness brings a kind of calm that lasts a short while.
You don’t feel nurtured except when your taste buds are overstimulated with sugar, salt, and fat.
You don’t feel loved and appreciated, so you turn eating into “giving myself some love.”
Your life lacks meaning, but at least when you eat, the emptiness inside can be ignored for a little while.

If you stop focusing so hard on diet and calories, the story of overweight in the west is the story of missed fulfillment.

A state of fulfillment

My goal is to bring you to a state of fulfillment. Once that begins to happen, you will stop eating for the wrong reasons. The solution is simple but profound: To lose weight, every step of the way must be satisfying. You don’t have to psychoanalyze yourself; you can stop obsessing about your body and dwelling in disappointment and frustration. There is only one principle that applies: Life is about fulfillment. If your life isn’t fulfilled, your stomach can never supply what’s missing.

From What Are You Hungry For?, ©2013 by Deepak Chopra, published by Random House

WHAT ARE YOU HUNGRY FOR?
by Deepak Chopra

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