Empty on a Full Stomach

The growth of instant gratification has enabled the ability for us to fast forward through the place of emotional discomfort to satisfaction in record speed and it’s no surprise fast food is one of the top vehicles getting us to the happy side.

author: Bethany Brenes, MPA, LPTA

The basic human instinct to seek pleasure and avoid pain is a Freudian theory that still holds relevance, especially involving food. Food has become one of the quickest and easiest means to alter negative emotions or simply increase happiness. Advertisements have already imprinted this association, so that when we begin to feel lonely, sad, or anxious, we already have a solution. Arby’s has “good mood food,” McDonalds knows “what happiness tastes like,” and Coke “loves to see you smile.”

The growth of instant gratification has enabled the ability for us to fast forward through the place of emotional discomfort to satisfaction in record speed. It’s no surprise fast food is one of the top vehicles getting us to the happy side. However, it is in the state we recognize as “negative” that may actually reveal what our mind is asking us to feed. So, what if we slowed down and listened in that uncomfortable space? Instead of eating into a more desirable mindset, what if we paused and sat in the presence of uncontrol? What if in that small space we are quick to push past, we found the identity of the illness? As odd as this sabbatical may sound, it is more profitable than our alternative, perpetual goal of “feeling happy.”

In 1973 Thomas Fogarty wrote On Emptiness and Closeness, where he explored the identity of emptiness and its purpose. He questioned what would happen if we allowed ourselves to stay in the feeling of emptiness, or even enter the emptiness voluntarily? If so, could this be the missing dissection into our anatomy that may reveal the cause for the undesired mental state?

Fogarty’s theory came before the 1980’s mass medicated state of mind. It asked the therapist to halt the conversation and allow the patient to exist in the emptiness that became the draw for the script pad. He asked them to stop forwarding to an outlet to fill the emptiness and to become acquainted with the landscape. Food can be a fast-acting void filler, but why are we not addressing what is creating the void? In your small space of emptiness, what feeling are you using food to distract you from?

The feeling of emptiness inherently prompts an action to fill. Shopping, social media, screen time all fill up a mental space, but food is the only outlet that produces a physically full feeling. Emotional eating has become so common it can barely be classified as a problem when the media is suggesting food as a means to mental well-being. 10 million people in the US suffer from binge eating. To call it a disorder would leave the amount of “normal people” if affects in denial. Luckily with the rise in cases of binge and emotional eating, research psychologists have found commonalities. Through a study analyzing 438 participants, researchers found 9 factors that trigger emotional eating.

1. Lack of intimacy- Food is used to fill the void of loneliness when a relationship lacks affection or closeness.

2. Feelings of shame- The individual eats to punish themselves when feelings of guilt or shame well up.

3. Challenges- Feelings of inadequacy in the face of challenges are overwhelming and can feel defeating without the consolation of food.

4. Fear of judgement- Eating is done in hiding for fear of looks or comments made about the individual.

5. Conflict avoidance- Food is turned to instead of facing a situation in a means to “swallow feelings.”

6. Boredom- Stimulation is received in food when situations feel bland.

7. Self-sabotaging beliefs- The individual feels they will never be successful with achieving their goals in health, allowing themselves to fail by accepting the belief they will never change.

8. Rebellion- For individuals feeling they are restricted in areas of life, they find their sense of freedom through the use of food.

9. Physical/Emotional/Sexual abuse- Food is again used as a tool the individual uses to punish themselves for enduring past or current abuse.

The first step in overcoming the dominant relationship with food is recognizing that our use of food is acting beyond nutrition. Next you must identify what’s happening when a craving is experienced. Determining which factor triggers your personal emotional eating will not prevent the pattern. However, it does illuminate the root cause and with this discovery creates awareness that in these moments our food choice will not heal the internal issue. Taking the myth of repair away from food will over time decrease the value of food to what it really is.

Once you have made the recognition, addressing the origin of the emotion will begin the transformation. Writing is my highest recommendation. When you are in that moment of emptiness, be still and write. Often you will find you have nothing to say when you begin, but by the middle you are making realizations and discoveries through the appearing monologue. Being still is imperative, but being still is not as simple as being quiet. The phrase “be still,” is translated from the Hebrew stem of the verb rapha, meaning to let go or become weak. It requires action to release what we are trying to control, to become weak and in that emptiness of our self we may discover what we are truly feeding.