Spiritual Depletion and Emotional Eating–Part I

Just as a wholesome meal nourishes our body, spirituality nourishes our soul.  The spiritual component of well-being involves a search for meaning, serenity and joy that goes beyond our day-to-day concerns.  You may be sensing that some deeper longing or hunger within you is fueling your emotional eating.  Perhaps the concept of spiritual depletion resonates with you.  You’re longing for more of something in life, even if you seem to have everything you once desired.  While you long to put an end to your emotional eating and have a slimmer, healthier body, a part of you knows that even that won’t make you truly happy.  Something is missing and you can’t quite put your finger on it.

So how do you know if your emotional eating represents a spiritual hunger or “call from you soul” that something is out of balance?  You can start by asking yourself if you experience any of the following symptoms on a regular basis.  Be honest with yourself.

Symptoms of spiritual depletion include:

    • emptiness
    • restlessness
    • unease
    • purposelessness
    • boredom
    • lack of inspiration/motivation
    • meaninglessness
    • longing for there to be more to life
    • lack of personal fulfillment
    • loneliness or a sense of aloneness
    • general sense of discontent or dissatisfaction and
    • a sense of being lost in life. 

In our everyday lives, we tend to get caught up in striving for some condition, acquiring some thing or connecting to some being.  We’ll be happy when we lose the weight, finish the school term, complete the book we’re writing, go on vacation, find the boyfriend, have a baby, buy a home, buy a bigger home, remodel the current home, etc.   Our materialistic lives can be  all-consuming and it’s easy to lose sight of our spiritual needs. 

Spirituality means something different to each individual.  For some, it means regular religious practice.  For others, it may involve a personal, individualized practice that fosters connection with a benevolent guide/force or higher sense of Self.  And still others experience spirituality as a deeply felt heart connection, sense of awe and gratitude.  If the concept of spirituality makes you bristle and congers up unwanted and long ago discarded dogmas and rituals from childhood, let me suggest that you think of spirituality in terms of care of your soul. 

Thomas Moore, psychotherapist, theologian and author of the New York Times Bestseller Care of the Soul suggests that “Soul is not a thing, but a quality or dimension of experiencing life and ourselves.  It has to do with depth, value, relatedness, heart and personal substance.”  He goes on to write “A soulful personality is complicated, multifaceted and shaped by both pain and pleasure, success and failure.  Life lived soulfully is not without its moments of darkness and periods of foolishness.” 

The peace, happiness, safety and security that we all desire cannot be found in things, conditions or beings.  It can’t be found in perfect beauty, health, wealth or loving attachments.  At any point in time we can experience setbacks and losses.  What we are searching for is already within us; we need only to make contact with our inner reserves.  This means we must “step out” of our limited focus on our responsibilities, needs and desires and consciously set aside time to care for our souls.  This allows us to gain a more expansive perspective on our lives and access a joy and peace we may have never known before.  This joy can put an end to our emotional eating.

The best way to access this storehouse of  treasure at the center of your own being is to consciously withdraw from your busy schedule periodically to quiet your mind and replenish your soul’s reserves.  All spiritual traditions encourage some form of silent retreat from the work-a-day world.  

There are many different techniques available for quieting the mind.  Just as there is no universal exercise program, there is no one right program or technique that works for everyone.  Any practice you choose needs to fit your unique emotional, intellectual and sensory style.  The goal of all the techniques is to have your whole being completely involved and focused on a nonverbal activity. 

One technique that I find particularly helpful for beginners (especially those who are anxious or depressed and have trouble quieting their minds)  is called Breath Counting Meditation.  In this exercise, you try to focus your complete attention on counting your breath.  Thoughts, feelings and sensations come and go; you notice them without judgment and return your focus to your breathing and counting. 

Step 1:  Find a quiet, private, comfortable place.  Sit upright on a comfortable cushion, chair or couch.  Make sure to turn off anything that might distract or interrupt you.  It’s best to close your eyes when you’re beginning this exercise as there is less distraction.  Set a timer for five minutes.

Step 2:  Focus on your breathing and counting.  As you inhale deeply, count the number one to yourself silently and then exhale deeply.  Repeat this four times, counting up to the number four, focusing solely on inhaling, exhaling and counting.  When you exhale on breath four, begin counting with the number one again. 

Step 3:  Breathe in quietude, breathe out tension.  As you inhale, imagine yourself breathing in light, love, peace and calm.  Breathe out and exhale stress, negativity and worry. Focus on how it feels as the air moves through your nostrils, mouth and chest.  Your body and mind are beginning to relax.  You are calm, quiet, safe and still in this moment.

Keep your expectations realistic regarding your mind-quieting sessions.  Sometimes you’ll feel like you are in some kind of flow and everything is going well.  Other times, your mind will race and your body will be restless while you count breaths, and you may feel like you are just going through the motions.  Stick with it.  This is all part of the process. 

Try using this technique when the urge to emotionally eat is strong.  As a beginner, you may still want to eat for comfort after practicing this technique.  Over time, your mind and body will be well-trained servants.  You’ll begin to experience more inner peace and harmony and notice a reduction in your desire to eat for comfort and soothing.

Each time you practice this technique, praise yourself for your willingness to care for your soul in a new, non-food way.  You’re beginning to address your spiritual depletion by learning to quiet your noisy mind.  This is a great first step.

In Part II of this article, I’ll further explore the relationship between spiritual depletion and emotional eating as it relates to our disconnection from our Highest Self or Higher Power.

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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