Just about everyone eats emotionally. We eat and drink to celebrate and to socialize. We share food as an exchange of love and as an enactment of cultural traditions. Certain foods take on a nostalgic resonance from cherished memories. Many of us anesthetize our emotions through food, seeking to erase a bitter experience with something sweet. We look to snacks to give ourselves a reliable comfort when we feel overwhelmed, stressed or rejected.
For many, food is more like a drug than a nutritional fuel source, a drug that is addictive, yet not one that we can give up cold turkey. Finding a way to come into harmony with our food involves facing the emotions we are covering up by indulging in a bag of potato chips.
The intelligence of our body is such that our animal nature and the ancient reptilian part of our brain can interpret certain emotions as a need to store fat. Our body may translate feelings of powerlessness as a need to become big and strong, or filter the psychological residue from emotional, physical or sexual abuse into the need for a buffer of fat. Feelings of fear, lack of safety, or lack of support can trigger the body into a famine-type fat storage response.
Obesity and its resulting illnesses, such as diabetes, are epidemic in an increasing number of countries. Emotional starvation for authentic human connection and happiness is as much a cause of this as the consumption of processed food full of empty calories. Dieting does not address the emotional set point that triggers fat storage, the reason conscientious dieters have such trouble maintaining results from calorie cutting. Uncovering our feelings that we have stuffed into our subconcious, facing them directly, allowing ourselves to feel them fully and then finding our way to a sense of protection and wellbeing, is the way to turn off the fat storage program.
At the same time, truly nutritious living food is incredibly powerful. When we give our body fresh, organic food that is alive and packed with nutrients, our cells feel the zing of life and respond. On a bodily level, real nutrition produces a tangible feeling of the animal body receiving what it really needs, producing a profound sense of satisfaction and well being. In the same way that eating a quantity of addictive pseudo-food, such as processed white sugar, makes us want to eat more of it; eating real, wholesome food in the form of fresh fruits and vegetables leads us to want more and more of what legitimately nourishes our body.
Certain fruits and vegetables are particularly helpful in recovering from food addictions and obesity by stimulating the body to burn food fuel efficiently. The all-important leafy greens, including kale, arugula, chard, spinach, parsley, mustard, collard and dandelion greens, are full of chlorophyll, the green “blood” of the plant. Through photosynthesis, sunlight transforms into chlorophyll, and rich plant matter which then becomes vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber in our plant food.
Fiber activates metabolism through a thermogenic effect, the process of converting calories into digested energy. Sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, broccoli, and apples are all high in fiber and vitamins, helping our body eliminate waste efficiently and our cells to convert food into energy, effectively boosting metabolism. Chilies contain capsaicin, which cranks up metabolism; adding them to our meals, as well as fresh garlic, cinnamon, ginger and citrus fruits, also has a stimulating effect. Avocados, once thought to be the bane of dieters, are full of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat and oleic acid, a compound that triggers our body to quiet hunger. Organic raw cacao is super rich in minerals, including magnesium (the mineral most peoples are deficient in), and is also a natural muscle relaxant and mood elevator, helping tame our body’s fight or flight mechanism, reducing stress and amping metabolism.
In addition to directly facing our feelings and selecting health-giving, living foods, there are other steps on the road to our optimal weight and health. Mahatma Ghandi said, “Chew your drink, and drink your food.” Digestion begins in our mouth, where thoroughly chewing our food enlists the digestive enzymes in our saliva and relieves the efforts of our stomach acid. Staying well-hydrated is essential to digestion. Regular exercise reduces stress, as does meditation. Getting enough sleep aids our metabolic process. An annual colon, liver and gallbladder cleanse stimulates digestion, metabolism and our immune system. Most essential of all, actively engaging in a life full of purpose allows the natural intelligence of our body to find its optimal weight and innate health.