So where do you go from here, short of self-injecting oxytocin or inhaling high doses of nitric oxide? It’s not like you can wake up and all of your self-esteem issues will vanish faster than Coney Island hot dogs on the Fourth of July. It will take some time, but it also takes some awareness that this tornado may be swirling. You are not expected to fit it, just be aware that this deep, in-your-gut feeling might be the reason why our society’s belts are now being used to accurately measure out 5K road races. Simply realizing that you may use food as a psychological painkiller is part of the solution for helping you avoid it. Now consider that the warranty on this emotional baggage has run out. Now that you know this baggage doesn’t serve you, it’s time you dropped it off at a psychological landfill and got rid of it for good.
So what does the theory say about why people do this to their own bodies? Or why you’d do it to your body? You may do it because this though process is a safe one and because your fat serves as a literal and metaphorical protective layer that keeps you from interacting with reality. You don’t have to play the game of life if you’re constantly making excuses for living on the bench. If only you could lose weight, if only you could fit into that bikini, if only you could take a hike with the family without breathing heavier than a prison escapee. While some people may say that fat is a failure, the truth is that fat, for many of us, is a way of avoiding failure, because it’s an excuse for never competing and engaging in life. Remember, “if only” are the world’s two most dangerous words.
What is especially interesting is that many people who use food as a cover-up want to live life in the tornado. They’re terrified by the thought of being thin. Being fat gives them an excuse to fail, an excuse to be depressed, an excuse to tango with at Twix bar.
For many of you, instead of addressing-or even acknowledging-this deeper longing and the restlessness you feel for never quite fulfilling it, you try to fill the emptiness with food and drink. You use a temporary fix (General Tso’s chicken) to satisfy the permanent void caused by not satisfying your spiritual needs (the “I”). Of all the actions you pursue, one of the few things you totally control is eating. You have the freedom to chow down what you want, where you want, how you want, and whether or not you want to do it with or without clothes on. Because of that freedom, eating makes you feel good. Funny thing, though; food is like the paint you sue to cover cracks formed in the foundation of your house. Two coats of robin’s-egg blue may hide the flaws temporarily, but they’re never going to fix the real root of the problem. If this is you, you cover-up is what starts that tornadolike cycle that keeps you from ever feeling satisfied physically or emotionally. Ask yourself: Could this be part of a cycle? You long for something deeper… And when you can’t find it, you eat to feel better… But you feel lousy because you gain weight… Then you tell yourself you don’t deserve to be thin because you can’t keep weight off… Then your self-esteem drops further because you haven’t overcome obstacles or accomplished what you want… So you self-medicate with food… And then you medicate yourself with food when you can’t find “IT”…
Soul-level satisfaction exists at a biochemical level as well as in your perceptible life. It’s your deeper drive-not the drive to fill the needs of your stomach or your muscles or even your mind, but the drive to fill the needs of your soul.
Now, there are some chemical and biological foundations for that feeling of soul-level satisfaction. Oxytocin, a hormone that is elevated in women after childbirth, also makes you feel a sense of community and pleasure within your family, or during a religious experience, or when you have an epiphany about your existence. When levels of oxytocin increase, you feel calm. Another hypothesis argues that your sense of self-esteem and well-being is influenced by the chemical nitric oxide (not to be confused with the laughing gas nitrous oxide). Traits such as hopefulness and optimism are associated with the release of nitric oxide through the body. In the same way, the release of nitric oxide may serve to help reduce feelings of anxiety and stress. But this chemical effect lasts for only seconds, so you need to continually stimulate your body with the right cerebral karma.
Now, let’s step back to see how the relationship developed between the emotional need for self-esteem and the physical need for baggy clothes. In our youth, many of us long for something in our lives that’s deeper and greater than our everyday reality of work, home sleep, repeat for 29,930 days. Maybe it’s religion, or maybe a calling to help others, or maybe a belief that the world revolves around the Cubs. We don’t care as much what the “IT” is as that we find the “IT” and explore the “IT”.
Many people-women especially-lack the self-esteem for waist control. In fact, the most common reason a woman doesn’t take care of her own health is because she puts others’ needs before her own. Going deeper – what is self-esteem? Let us assume our general sense of self-worth comes form two forces: overcoming obstacles and accomplishing some kind of goal. In the case of waist management, what happens if you don’t overcome an obstacle (the box of Ding Dongs) and don’t accomplish something (your goal weight by your high school reunion)? Yep, your self-esteem plummets faster than ratings for summer reruns. To resurrect it, you need to find ways to overcome and accomplish-without making the very standards by which you measure your life unrealistic weights, measurements, and stricter-than-boot camp eating habits.
Being overweight is more about self-esteem-about the petrifying fear that you don’t deserve to be thin. The mental, emotional, and deep psychological issues involved with obesity are simply very difficult to “prove” in a Western sense.
It’s no secret that we use food as a medication for our acute emotional problems. Stress at work directs us to the box of doughnuts. Crazy kids send up to the snack shelf. A downer of a day puts us incisor-deep into a half-pint of Edy’s. But to end our discussion of how emotions and obesity collide right there would be like saying that Band-Aids and ice packs can cure all diseases. The reality is that a good number of us with weight problems have emotional issues that run deeper than the middle of the Pacific, and we try to satisfy our need for a higher power by self-medication with food. If you are one of those people, you don’t much are about leptin, ghrelin, and NP-whatever.
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