Psychology of Eating Patterns

From Dr. Cousens’ book, Conscious Eating:

As we evolve in body, mind and spirit, the dietary needs of our body also change. The diet not only changes with the seasons, but with the maturation of our emotional, mental, and spiritual state. Remaining sensitive to our mind-body-spirit responses to our food is important in helping us make the appropriate adjustments in dietary intake. These shifts are guided by intuition and aided by the awareness of changes in our tastes for different textures, foods, colors, and smells. As we become healthy, we often require less food because the body is better able to assimilate the physical aspects of the food and the more subtle energies from which the food is condensed.

To successfully make the appropriate dietary adjustments we must be free enough psychologically to distinguish between healthy intuition (these subtle, internal feedback systems of when, where, how much, and what) and the drives of our habitual eating patterns, peer pressure, unconscious psychological needs, food transferences, and cultural and personal life patterns. The key to this approach lies in identifying nonfunctional food patterns and being able to let them go if they are detracting from our love communion with the Divine or from our physical, emotional, and mental well-being. In this process, we need to ask questions of ourselves, such as:

Am I really hungry now?
Am I eating too rapidly and overriding the sensation of fullness?
Am I responding to other needs?
What am I trying to say by this food choice?
Are there alternative foods for filling this present desire to eat?
Are there alternative activities for filling this present desire to eat?

Some of these patterns are relatively easy to identify and dissolve. For example, I always considered my mother’s cherry pie a love offering to me. I left for college with a very positive food transference to cherry pie. Over the years, I would always eat cherry pie with great joy. As my diet began to evolve, the way I felt after eating cherry pie began to change and I didn’t feel the same afterwards. Even eating organic cherry pie did not reverse this trend. Because of the negative feedback from my post-eating experience and my awareness of my food transference, I was able to let go of my nonfunctional food desire for cherry pie.

If the process of letting go of certain food habits were always this easy, our culture would not have such a high percentage of the population eating such poor diets and living in such poor health. For many people, overcoming their food transferences and food issues can require intense and difficult work that takes them to the very core of their psychological beings. In the US it is staggering how many people are overweight and obese (twenty pounds or more overweight).

In America there is such an abundance of food that people are literally eating themselves to death. Because of the abundance of food in our society, many ego defenses have developed around food. According to Dr. Cott, in his book The Ultimate Diet, approximately eighty million people in the US are overweight and forty-five million of these are obese. Forty percent of women between the ages of thirty and forty are obese.

Some of the more common negative beliefs and fears associated with being overweight have to do with the consequences people fear if they, in fact, lost weight and returned to normal body shape. Many people fear that the opposite sex will be more interested in them sexually if they lose their fatty protection. Losing this protection brings up fears around sexuality, molestation, and intimate relationships in general. Some people even fear being rejected by jealous peers if they are too attractive. Others fear receiving
too much attention and the demand for intimacy this would bring up. Fat can become a wall of protection against intimacy.

For others, food means love and attention. It is a way of feeling loved. Many have been programmed that eating is a way to get parental approval. Most people have been trained to please their parents by eating everything on their plate.

For some, overeating is a general, all-purpose way to stuff feelings of sadness, anger, rejection, fear, anxiety, and loneliness or to numb themselves to feelings and life in general. Not eating at all, or overeating, are ways to oppose a parent or spouse who wants you to do the opposite. For some, what they eat or do not eat may be one of the only activities in their lives that their parents or spouses cannot control. Eating may bring up many reactive family patterns that we developed at the dinner table over years of programming.

Overeating may also keep re-creating feelings of guilt and low self esteem. It is a great way to punish or be angry with oneself. Some even use overeating as a form of slow suicide. On the other hand, people who have experienced actual starvation situations may find themselves eating excessively as a compensation for, and avoidance of, their fear of starving again.

As we start to look at these many different psychological patterns, it becomes apparent that not only do the actual eating habits keep people unhealthy and overweight, but the negative thoughts they have created in relationship to the food also contribute to the problem. These disharmonious thoughts maintain inappropriate eating patterns. To use an analogy, fat sticks to our bodies the way these negative thoughts stick in our minds. When these contracting thoughts are released, a lot of blocked energy is simultaneously released. This released energy sometimes seems to rebalance the system and somehow enables us to release fat. Symbolically, and often literally, heavy thoughts add heaviness, thickness, and darkness to the body. Thoughts filled with light and love add lightness and fluidity to us. It is said that “angels fly because they take themselves lightly.” While eating it is important to be joyous and to think positive thoughts. Negative thinking or taking in negative thoughts from those sharing the meal, or from the newspaper or television, adds a heaviness to the food we are assimilating.

Food is love. Life is love. Contracting, limiting, and negative thought patterns keep us mired in chronic hunger, unconscious gobbling, and a state of chronic dissatisfaction with food intake. These heavy thoughts block us from the experience of love in our lives. No matter how much we try to eat in this blocked state, we cannot fully be nourished. We will feel nourished by food when the negative thoughts, which determine who we think we are—or aren’t—are dissolved. Thoughts about food determine how we relate to food and ultimately to other people. Chronic overeating patterns usually fade away when dysfunctional thoughts associated with food are dissolved.

Negativity is often stored in excess fat as blocked energy. When we let go of such forms of negativity as self-loathing, guilt, grief, depression, loneliness, helplessness, anger, hate, fear of others, fear of life, self-pity, blame, and unconscious death urges, this negative, stored energy often leaves the body. Then we are able to release the bulwark of fat which is used for protection from the pain of life. Eating then becomes filled with love and joy, and the body and mind become lighter and happier.

A vegetarian diet, and particularly a raw-food diet, can be threatening to some people because it directly forces them to face their food issues, and indirectly, their life issues. Live foods have so much nourishment in them that considerably less food is needed to get the same amount of nutrition. Needing less food for optimal nutrition, however, forces us to observe whatever food compulsions we may have. If we compulsively need to eat more food and the body actually needs less food, it becomes increasingly harder to deny this contradiction. Many negative thoughts may arise when beginning to eat less, particularly on a raw-food diet or when fasting. Because of the highly energetic qualities of raw food, it seems harder to suppress feelings when eating it compared to overeating cooked and non-vegetarian types of foods to numb ourselves to life. On raw foods, repressed emotions and thoughts seem to be more easily released by the body-mind complex.

In the Ayurvedic section, I will point out that sweet foods may create the illusion of fullness and a false contentment or good feeling. Often when people are feeling bad, empty, or depressed, they turn to junk food, especially sweets, in a misguided attempt to create a temporary feeling of fullness and happiness. Instead of the alcoholic’s illusion of drinking troubles away, those who turn to junk food to make themselves feel better try to eat away their sadness and emptiness. It is a two-tiered illusion. Junk foods are
“shadow” foods with little nutrient value and great negative consequences to health. Junk foods are an illusion of real food. The idea that we can eat away our troubles is an illusion compounded on illusion. Unfortunately, many become addicted to this double illusion. The transition to living foods brings us immediately into awareness of it.

Overeating, especially of junk food, may also represent a sweet but slow suicide for some who are depressed. Carol Meer, a past client of mine who took the Zero Point Process, a workshop that deals with dissolving negative thoughts and belief systems (see below), in the process of healing her food addictions and in her transition to a live-food approach, shared the following eloquent statement of the multiple meanings of overeating junk food from her May 1990 journal entry:

“I have recently understood why I have eaten junk food for so many
years. There are dead spaces . . . spaces in me that want death. Instead
of going into myself and feeling and healing my death, I have “simulated”
death by going in there with a strange reversal and eating
dead food instead. Dead food is food that has no real vitality, but
gives the sense of vitality or life. It is like artificial vitality giving one
the false feeling of having power and energy. It is, in fact, deception
woven into deception.”

Without the accompanying emotional-mental work to release the stored negative thoughts and identities in those “dead places,” as Carol would say, it is difficult to heal oneself with a live-food diet alone. A live-food, or even a primarily cooked vegetarian diet is a powerful aid to the healing process. The level of health stimulated by such a diet creates a whole new experience and lightness in the body. The vibration of the somato-nervous system becomes so high that it literally forces the lower-vibration, negative thoughts out of the system. These negative thoughts become incompatible with a higher vibration of energy that begins to fill the system. Metaphorically speaking, a live-food diet brings so much lightness to the system that “the light is able to dispel the darkness.” Paradoxically, this is one reason I recommend that people make a slow transition to vegetarianism and particularly to a raw-food cuisine. I see this release of stored negativity as healthy and healing if one creates the proper psychological space to process these thoughts. For example, during our spiritual fasting retreats, we have a daily group process to help participants release and heal from these long-time, stored negativities that come up.

Food is essential to our survival. Psychological imbalances associated with food are related to the survival energy center and consciousness. Working through our food issues helps us become conscious of our survival issues. These issues link our subtle survival center to the awareness of survival issues of the whole planet. As we are able to come into harmony with our own survival issues, we become more and more able to eat in a way that is healthy for the survival of the whole planet, as well as ourselves. It is no accident that starvation is one of the critical issues our planet is facing today.

Once food compulsions and transferences are resolved and we overcome chronic overeating and lose weight, then the next subtle energy center and awareness issues often come to the surface. These are issues of sexuality and creativity. Throwing away the fatty protection frequently forces us to face our sexual power. In some cases, sexual obsessions that were buried underneath the food defense system begin to emerge.

Food difficulties and eating patterns are related to a whole complex of issues. Although it is easy to think this discussion only applies to those who are overweight, these are issues that many people face no matter what their weight. Food issues are something we all must master as part of our spiritual evolution, because with few exceptions, we all have to eat. Once we find peace with our food issues, we have added another building block to our spiritual foundation.

Because of my background as a psychiatrist, I include psychological work with people who are experiencing eating problems or who want to work on food issues in addition to their spiritual growth as part of my holistic approach. In order to speed the process and keep people independent, I teach a self-healing course at the Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center on how to identify these limiting, negative thoughts that we create in our own minds. This course, called the Zero Point Process, teaches people how to return to the onset of their thoughts about food, and even to look prior to the formation of basic identities around food and the personality in general. This is the so-called “zero point.” When we are able to do this, we can first witness these thoughts and then dissolve them. Once these thoughts are identified and dissolved, they no longer have any power over us. The techniques are powerful and simple. Sometimes these issues can be cleared up in one hour. This depends, however, on one condition being present: it is whether the person is ready to let go of his or her dysfunctional thought patterns.

To successfully give up a thought pattern, people need to get in touch with both their desire and resistance to lose or gain weight, or any aspect of food which is an issue to them. Some level of desire to change can usually be found. The process helps them get in touch with resistances so they do not deny them with affirmations and other avoidance patterns. Some of the resistant thoughts of which people become aware are: interpersonal manipulations around food; fears of change; self-mythologies; limiting self concepts; negative self-images; unwillingness to give up family and cultural images; and unconscious secondary gain for being overweight.

You can purchase your copy of Conscious Eating HERE.