Where is he from?
I know which foods are good for me and which ones are not, it is commonly admitted. However, sometimes I just can’t stop.
When I first started as editor at Wellspring Magazine, we placed a strong emphasis on nutrition education, with a large portion of the content highlighting the benefits of particular nutrients. Eat more of this and less of that, and you’re good to go. Nice message, but then the feedback started coming. Readers wanted to understand why, even after learning that vegetables do this and sugar does that, they still had trouble maintaining the healthy diet they really wanted for themselves.
Before long, a column on emotional eating was the focus of the publication, running for years before other wellness articles took its space.
Because and if you’ve been around long enough you know this too is not about knowing which foods are good for us that will make a difference in our food choices.
Safe, know what constitutes a healthy lifestyle is a cornerstone to being able to pursue it, but it is be aware of what drives us eating foods in quantity or quality that are not good for us which allows us to maintain a healthy diet.
Whenever we consume more than our bodies need to sustain and function optimally, or foods that hinder this functioning, we are engaging in emotional eating. We weren’t eating because we were physically hungry (although we very well may have been); rather, we ate to fill a void. I may have the most nutritionally sound, balanced, and most acclaimed meal guide, but if the emotional piece isn’t right, I’ll find myself constantly falling back on my commitment to my health.
And our commitment to our health is no small matter. Also for the commandment of the Torah venishmartem meod lenafshoseichemWe don’t need anyone to tell us the many benefits we enjoy when we eat within limits, when we make wise choices, when we feel like we’re choosing our food and not the other way around. Aside from the physical health benefits (and weight loss), maintaining a healthy diet from a place of self-appreciation (not self-loathing) facilitates a profoundly positive impact on our well-being and relationships. So how can we finally achieve this?
Internalizing the following 3 key points will enable us to initiate lasting change regarding this self-sabotaging habit.
1. Overeating is a resultnot a cause.
As long as we see overeating as THE problem, they were bound to get stuck in the habit. None of us engage in self-sabotaging behavior because we’ve sat down and realized that this makes sense to us. Rather, something other than logic prompted us to reach for those chocolate caramel gummy bears.
Overeating isn’t the whole point of the challenge; it’s actually a symptom. About what? In Alei ShurRav Shlomo Wolbe teaches that all of us humans, and Yidden in particular, are pleasure seekers (a trait whose ultimate goal is to prompt us to experience the pleasure of all pleasures in our relationship with Hakadosh Baruch Hu). Since our mission in life is to seek pleasure and escape pain, teaches Rav Wolbe, we will do whatever it takes to be in that stateAt any cost. For many of us, the pleasure we’ve been conditioned to seek out, especially when our feelings are unpleasant or hard to make sense of, is food. Is pleasure fleeting? Oh yes. Can it have serious repercussions? Yes to that too if the quantity or quality of the food is not good for us. But at that moment, when the sweet touches our taste buds, we are getting an instant dose of pleasure. And that’s why, as insensitive as it may seem, we keep coming back over and over again.
With the understanding that overeating is the result of something deeper, comes the recognition that when I engage in this habit, I’m not doing it intentionally. I’m not finishing that bag of French fries or a tub of ice cream because I want to spite myself. Rather, I have a need for pleasure or escape from pain that hasn’t been addressed. Seeing myself through this lens fills me with self-pity, not self-loathing. Instead of chiding me for being a (all the unpleasant adjectives we women call ourselves after a binge), we can see each other with validating eyes. True, what I did did me no good, but when I am aware that this was an achievement, I can afford to be. As counterintuitive as it sounds, it’s this type of treatment that has the best chance of stopping the binge-eating cycle. In my work with women, emotional eating is one of the most common symptoms in our community (for good reason, i.e. from women, food is some of the most kosher (pain numbers and pleasure givers), I keep noticing over and over how positive the results of self-compassion are particularly on this issue. The more we are able to accept ourselves to try to fill our emptiness, the more we develop a healthy sense of self. And the healthier our sense of self, the more we want to care for our neshama pot from a place of longing and self-appreciation. This is when healthy eating becomes a given for us, with the help of Hashem.
2. Recognize your humanity.
We women have a knack for raising the bar. Be it tablescapes, shidduchim, or anything in between, only the best will do. And so, that inside bar is also high. If we look at our food intake, for example, we expect to have such clarity about the importance of our effort that nothing can tempt us anymore.
But Hashem, who understands our psyche best, knows best. When Yidden left Mitzrayim, Hashem ordered Moshe to lead us on a roundabout route so we would not have easy access back to Mitzrayim. Remove temptation, was the message. Lo al yedei nisayon, daven every morning. It’s important for us to recognize that because we’re human, we want to do what we can to avoid temptation in the first place. If we know that certain foods or food groups are difficult to consume in healthy quantities, it’s best to avoid them. Why put us in a nisayon if we don’t have to?
The day Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler ztl he quit smoking, upon learning of its health risks, he said to everyone in his presence: Did you hear that I quit smoking? By publicizing his commitment, he built boundaries that would make it harder for him to fall back. What validation! Among many other similar teachings, Chazal instructs, harcheik mishachein ra, distance yourself from negative influences. His commands like these send us a message about the wisdom of self-awareness. Don’t stay with that neighbor and expect to remain unaffected.
We often set the bar so high that we end up losing everything. We expect to be angels. I want to have the food in front of me and not even think about taking part in it. Is this realistic? Recognize that you are human and don’t make this effort any harder on yourself. As for overeating, free your kitchen as much as possible of foods you find irresistible and avoid nisyonos as much as possible even away from home. Yes, over time, if you continue to make healthy choices out of self-appreciation, those temptations will lessen. There will likely come a day when you find yourself baking a cake without being tempted to taste the batter, but work from where you are.
3. Lay down your weapons.
Many of us make the mistake of attributing success in overcoming overeating to willpower. If I work hard, I’ll have what to show for it. But it is this mistake that often makes success short-lived.
The word willpower conjures up the image of a warrior in battle, sweating and panting. Whoever fights the hardest comes out victorious. When this is our approach to eating well, sooner or later we are bound to abandon the competition. How long can we continue to torture ourselves? If what I really want is chocolate and pizza all day, and here I am, warrior of all time, leading this battle, pretty soon I feel tired and deprived. As long as we feel deprived, poor me I can’t have itthey were still in battle.
A sign that we were still at war is when our reward for making healthy choices is food that isn’t good for us. The subliminal message in an award like this (I’ll give myself that donut when I hit that number) is Really, I’d love to keep eating donuts, but I’m forcing myself to stay away
If waging war isn’t the right approach, what AND the actual perspective? It’s when our decision to pursue a healthy lifestyle (including exercise) emanates from a positive desire, a true desire to do what’s good for me. And if you say, My true desire is to eat chocolate and cake, but what can I do if these foods don’t reciprocate? know that there is a place inside that you have not yet tapped into. It’s a good place! Let go there.
Deep down, what we want most of all is to take care of our bodies and nefesh correctly, to fill up on the true pleasures of life. We are very human, so obviously sugary foods will always taste good on our tongues, but when our emotional health is in good shape, we want what is Truly well, what won’t leave us with unpleasant side effects. We ourselves are often unaware of this place because we have used food for too long as a means of calming ourselves and distracting ourselves from unpleasant emotions. We have become so numb to our true self that it is difficult for us to know what is there. And so, tapping into this locus of desire requires intention. It wants us to notice that it’s there, waiting to be unearthed, and act accordingly. When we pursue a healthy lifestyle from this place, it doesn’t seem difficult at all. It feels right and good and yes, easy too.
Our eating is much more than the calories we consume; it is a manifestation of our inner world. When our meals are nutritious, flavorful, and within the bounds that are right for us, which is when we pay attention to our inner world, we can enjoy them and function optimally not only physically, but emotionally as well. Just like with sleep, when we get too much, we feel terribly sleepy. When we get too small, we’ve been drained. But when we give ourselves just the right amount, we can be our best refreshed and vibrant selves.
May Hashem grant us the wisdom to care for our vessel neshama with only what she needs so we can look and feel our best and bring what only we can into this world.
Dear readers and friends of BCP,
If you’d like to learn more about coping with emotional eating so you can finally break free from this self-sabotaging behavior, I invite you to join us for an inspiring 3-hour workshop this coming Monday, June 5, in Brooklyn (I’ll be visiting from Yerushalayim). In this intensive course, which will also include an emotional musical experience, we will embark on an inner journey and come away with insights that will enable us to lead the healthy life we desire and deserve.
For more information, visit https://lahavinitiative.org/projects/#light
call 718-757-9329 or email email@example.com.
*BONUS! Enter code BCP at checkout for $20 off.*
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