Stress Eating: A Maladaptive Food Meditation
by Lance Briggs, MSN, PMHNP-BC
What does it mean to meditate? The word meditation conjures different images from popular culture but what does it really mean? Meditation is a way of moving your thoughts away from life’s distractions. These distractions are usually rooted in analyzing the mistakes of the past or the fears of the future. The natural tendency of the consciousness (or awareness) to move backward and forward in time is crucial for our survival. It is what makes humans the top of the food chain because we are able to out-think larger, stronger predators. We don’t have too many predators to fight in our current society. Still, your wandering consciousness continues to travel from the past to the future collecting feelings of guilt, anxiety and fear. I often describe the consciousness as a tired traveler. Meditation gives this woeful wanderer a chance to rest.
The goal of meditation is to give your consciousness a chance to rest. It allows you to move forward in your life with intention instead of becoming a victim to your tired consciousness. When your consciousness is tired, you tend to be more reactive by acting without much thought. Often people ask, “Why do I keep failing at what I want to do?”. I think the answer is simple: your consciousness is tired and you fall victim to the unconscious, pleasure-driven brain. By practicing meditation twice a day for only 10 minutes, you can build up your consciousness and move forward with your own intentions.
There are many forms of meditation. The one that I like to implement is called mindfulness. It essentially means focusing your consciousness on the present. It is very difficult to keep your consciousness focused on the present moment, especially if there is nothing to occupy your attention. This is where the senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch) come into play. A positive sensation can hold your attention in the present more easily. To me, this is the primary value of aromatherapy, Epsom salt baths, self-massage, yoga, or other stretching exercises. For example, music plays heavily on our hearing sense, pulling us away from the stress of the world. It’s easy to see the positive impact music has on our minds.
Focusing on the present by using sensation can be challenging to fit into your busy schedule. You might face challenges in the first couple weeks of meditation practice, such as “I couldn’t shut my mind off” or “I keep getting distracted.” Those challenges are further evidence of the need to continue.
Another common challenge is making time for meditation, but consider this… you might already practice meditation on a daily basis with another name: Stress Eating. Stress eating is a maladaptive form of mindfulness. We are using the mechanical sensation of chewing and swallowing, the sense of smell of appealing foods, and, of course, our sense of taste to ground us in the present. From a psychological perspective this would actually be okay if there wasn’t such a high caloric and health cost to food consumption. The fact that we gravitate toward stress eating naturally illustrates the deep-seeded need for the consciousness to be grounded in the present and further bolsters the need to incorporate mindfulness as a regular intentional part of our lives.
For more information on the benefits of mindfulness meditation, visit; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEMUDaLMWJ8