Are you overeating because your life lacks purpose or meaning?

Nothing feels better than waking up and looking forward to the day.  Life feels worth living.  We feel a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction because our life has purpose and feels meaningful.  And even better if we feel inspired and passionate about what we’re doing.  We can feel purpose and meaning from many types of activities, including those that:

  • are routine and provide order, satisfaction, comfort and balance to our lives–earning a living, household chores, running errands, shopping and preparing food and exercising
  • improve our personal lives –advancing in our career, acquiring new skills, learning an instrument or language, joining a social group and
  • improve the lives of others–volunteering, teaching, mentoring, caretaking and entertaining. 

We become imbalanced when we don’t have enough meaningful activity in our lives and this can lead to overeating in an attempt to fill up the emptiness.  Likewise, too much pursuit of meaningful activities to the exclusion of self care needs and other responsibilities can equally imbalance us.  We need just the right balance. 

Stop for a moment and reflect:   Be truthful with yourself.  Does your life feel full of purpose and meaning?   If not, this lack  may be contributing to your overeating.  Your life probably contains plenty of purposeful activity but it’s most likely of the routine variety and does not feel all that meaningful.  Perhaps life feels like one big chore and you’re just going through the motions.  Maybe you don’t feel inspired or passionate about anything. 

Take heart.  It’s never too late to build more purpose and meaning into your life.  But before I give you a few stategies for doing just that, let’s explore how purpose and meaning develop in our lives. 

When we are raised in a loving, nourishing and enriching environment, our natural abilities, inclinations, strengths and interests are noticed and encouraged.  Our caregivers gently and wisely guide us in pursuing meaningful activities and purpose-filled paths.  Whether our interests lead to life-long vocations or part-time hobbies, we enter early adulthood with a clear idea of what we enjoy, what we are good at and what feels meaningful.

If instead, we are raised in an emotionally or physically under-nourished, chaotic and/or traumatizing environment, we will spend our early years surviving neglect, shame, attack, criticism and abuse.  In our free time we will seek comfort, pleasure, safety and distraction rather than purpose and meaning. 

Sure, some kids, in the midst of neglect and chaos, can and do find meaningful distraction in their studies, sports, musical instruments, art, drama and the like.   But other children don’t fare so well and without proper guidance and nurturance they may have difficulty applying themselves throughout their lives.  These children may feel easily overwhelmed.  They may struggle with perfectionism.  There may be undetected learning disabilities or attention deficits and they may have a low tolerance for frustration. 

Whether you’re someone who used to feel a lot of purpose and passion or someone who has never felt much purpose, the following four strategies will help you build more meaning into your life:

Strategy #1  Adjust your daily attitude.  You can begin to add more meaning and joy to your routine activities by focusing on the benefits of certain tasks you perform.  You can make them more meaningful by becoming more conscious of their purpose.  For example, while washing the dishes, focus on how much you enjoy a clean sink and kitchen.  When you are shopping for groceries, stop and reflect on the ease with which you can obtain food today–all your hunting and gathering is done down the aisles of markets.  You can also offer a smile and patient attitude to those who serve you, like waiters and bank tellers.  Brightening someone else’s day can feel very meaningful.

Strategy #2  Replace self-defeating thoughts.  If you find yourself doubtful of you ability to bring meaning and purpose into your life, focus on replacing these self-sabotaging thoughts.  For example,

Doubtful thought:  “I’m just too old to find meaning in my life.”

Reframe:  “Finding meaning has more to do with my willingness to try something new than my age.  Meaning can be found at any age.”

Doubtful thought:  “I’m not really good at anything.”

Reframe:  “I have many talents and resources to draw upon.”

Strategy #3:  Try something new.  Is there something new you have always wanted to try?  Let your heart guide you.  Start with something that is in you comfort zone, such as a new class at a facility with which you are familiar or something new a friend is trying.  The important point here is to step out and try something, anything new or different to improve your personal life. 

Strategy #4:  Make a positive contribution to someone else’s life.  Even though you may feel that all you can handle is focusing on yourself, “getting off of yourself” can help give your life perspective and meaning.  Helping others can lift you out of  a seemingly purposeless existence.  We need soul-nourishing connection with others to feel complete and whole.  Make a list of activities you could take part in that would contribute to the lives or wellbeing of others.  This doesn’t have to involve many hours per week.  Even a couple of hours per month can feel meaningful.  Think about what you have to offer in terms of time, resources, money and talent.

Life is ever changing and as you mature and evolve, different activities will take center stage.  If you remain open and flexible, your emotions and needs will guide you in finding purpose and meaning at any phase of your life. 

Which strategy do you plan to start with?

Posted by Julie M. Simon, MA, MBA, MFT.  If you have a question or topic you would like to see addressed in this blog, go to http: //www.overeatingrecovery.com.

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