While preparing to write this article I sat down under a tree one day and made a list of reasons why people, including myself, eat. I stopped after I had identified 50 reasons, and more than 40 were emotional in nature! Humans mostly eat out of emotional habit, equating their “appetite” with a strong message from their body that says: “Food! Feed me now and don’t stop until I feel better!” Some people eat to satisfy this “appetite,” believing they are filling a true need for nutrition, while others do so knowing that this is not the case.
You may believe you need to work on “controlling your appetite.” When we recognize that we have an emotional eating problem, working on “controlling our appetite” rarely, if ever, works. The reason is we neither understand the nature of the “appetite” nor how to approach it. I do not believe that our “appetite” is something to control but rather something to understand. Let’s explore this and see how getting to the core of our reasons for eating can help us.
“Appetites” can be considered to be desires that arise from thoughts, memories and bodily needs. The needs can be can be physiological (nutrients, food, water, sunshine, exercise, rest or sleep) or emotional (comfort, security or love). Emotional eating can and sometimes does help us cope. Food, however, can never truly solve an emotional “appetite.”
Essential and Nonessential Eating
There are only three essential reasons to eat:
- To nourish our bodies when we experience true hunger.
- To hydrate our bodies when we are thirsty.
- To fuel our bodies before and during rigorous work and exercise.
Eating for any reason other than the three essentials is, to a greater or lesser degree, not healthful. How can we set ourselves free of unhealthful eating?
The key to healthful eating is mindful body awareness. This practice leads to self-knowledge, which is the gateway to health, freedom and longevity. As conscious beings, we have the ability to develop our self-awareness on our pathway to self-mastery. With regard to eating, it is beneficial to observe our food cravings or appetites, food choices, the manner in which we eat, what our mind is doing while we eat, our emotions and our body’s sensations during and after we eat.
By practicing body awareness in a relaxed manner while we eat, we gain new insight about ourselves and our appetites. The magic of this is that as we come to know ourselves, we are constantly improving our ability to make healthful choices. Then, as our health blossoms, sickness becomes a thing of the past. We begin to feel great all the time, and we no longer stuff our stomach, intestines and colon; pollute our blood and brain; or waste our money on excess food. There is a new tool for helping us become proficient at body awareness and getting to the core meanings of our “appetites.” It is called …
The “Somatic Inquiry”
The “Somatic Inquiry” is a practice of sensing and observing the energetic presences and voids in and of the body—the inner terrain so to speak—and so discovering our true needs. In practicing the “Somatic Inquiry,” you will naturally hone your ability to eat, live and care for yourself healthfully. By inquiring into your appetites, you will gain a deeper understanding of their nature so that you can discern what is and is not true hunger. After a while, it becomes easy and natural to integrate the “Somatic Inquiry” into your life—just like sensing the outside air temperature and deciding how much clothing to wear.
- Sit in quietude and develop an internal witness who silently and nonjudgmentally observes everything about your self: your thoughts, emotions, sensations, circumstances, etc. In a relaxed manner, keep on observing and practicing being present in the body, every moment.
- One or more times each day, while sitting in quietude, have the witness do a somatic inventory: From head to toe, or any direction, observe all of the qualities of the energies, sensations, feelings, emotions and voids you sense in your body. When you come to a strong or interesting presence, locate it in the body and delve or inquire into it via the “Somatic Inquiry” as follows: What is the temperature, shape, color, texture, density, space, movement of the energetic presence? Does it have a sound? Is there any message? If it is a void, can you delve into it? Stay with the energies or the void and delve deeper and deeper, without dwelling on or analyzing anything that comes up. A shift or resolution may occur as you sense-feel.
- Keep practicing emotional-body awareness all day, even while talking to people at work or in any situation. Sense the energies in your body and accept whatever is there, observe how it wants to move and shift, and allow it all. Sometimes there will be a message in what we are feeling, and it’ll be safe to express it to ourselves or others. When circumstances rule this out, we can always use our breath, exhaling deeply, allowing the emotional energy to flow through us, releasing it to the universe. Breathing is a great tool!
- Practice the “Somatic Inquiry” when you have food cravings or appetites. Focus on the energies in and of the body. This helps us become comfortable with and accept the emotional body. This practice is about developing self knowledge—getting in touch with our true needs and appetites. Inquire into the nature of your “hunger appetite”—become aware of all of its sensations and feelings. Is it located in your stomach area? What do you feel? Tune in and observe the feelings and qualities—sense the energetic presence as a whole.
- If you are having a “hunger appetite” in your belly, is your stomach region giving you a clear food signal? Maybe it is uncomfortable and just flexing. If you stay with it, the craving may shift and resolve to something else. If you drink a glass of water, that flexing might go away and you will have learned that the flexing was not actually hunger. Maybe your stomach is empty and just wants love. Eating is not the answer; food is not love, but caring for your emotional needs is loving. How can you distinguish a need for love from a need for food? Invite feelings of love in and see what happens.
- If you sense something uncomfortable in the belly or experience low energy and a “blue” mood, this can trigger a sense of weakness, low self-esteem or neediness, leading to the habitual emotional response of eating sweets to boost your blood sugar or fatty foods to fill up the sense of emptiness. Inquire into these feelings, too. The healthful goal is to eat only to satisfy true hunger. What does that feel like? Explore and find out.
- Do you have a feeling somewhere that is calling for a specific type of food? Locate it in your body and get to intimately know it. Does your body want something creamy or tangy-sweet or semi-sweet or salty or crunchy or chewy or juicy or a combination of those? Do you recognize the food it wants? If you do and if it is available, observe the food—sniff it, peel it or break it open if necessary. Sniff in the aroma some more. If the food is totally appealing, deeply feel the pleasant sensations in your body, then slowly and consciously bite and chew it. As you eat, observe the sensations and how you feel as the food goes down. Relax into the eating and digestion process, stay tuned in and keep on observing how you feel. Continue to eat until you are satiated, following your body’s signals that your stomach is sufficiently (not completely!) full. Your appetite may shift or the taste may change. It’s best not to eat past those “stop” signals. Put the remaining food in the refrigerator, compost it or share it with a friend.
- If you have difficulty with the process of getting in touch with your inner signals, this may indicate that you need to detox further, work with a coach or just keep practicing on your own. Living on juices or water fasting helps clarify our windows of perception; emotional contractions and armoring and dense-body dullness will open up to heightened sensation and perception. Juicing and fasting also helps us overcome appetites for cooked food.
- After you have finished eating, observe for several hours how you feel. Notice your energy, any pleasant and unpleasant feelings in your body, any indigestion. Do you feel happy, balanced, unbalanced, energized, sleepy, moody? Are you experiencing an appetite or craving? If yes, locate it in the body and inquire into it.
The Use of Self-Knowledge
File away all of this information in your memory and refer to it the next time you sense an appetite or craving. As you continue sensing and observing your body and evaluating all of your experiences, you will optimize your progress on the healthful eating path!
I wish you expanding enjoyment in your explorations of the inner terrain. If I can guide you though the “Somatic Inquiry” via a phone session, I am happy to do so. I am also incorporating the “Somatic Inquiry” into my lectures, making them a unique “sense-sational” experience. The “Somatic Inquiry” is the most empowering and transformational dietary tool I know of; it can be more enjoyable than any artificial entertainment or outerworld adventure because it is real, it is alive and it takes you to new fascinating dimensions of the wonderful you!