I don’t know what to do on my overeating issue. I am obese. I work-out, but the eating… I was raped as a child and my parents always beat me and told me I am worthless and stupid. How can I heal? I have been chanting, doing seva and yoga even telling myself sentences like “I am bhakti. I am love. I am worthy.” I even go to a psychologist but no improvement.
We are sorry to hear of the pain and suffering you have experienced. The good news is that you do not have to go on suffering any longer. If you analyze all problems in society, whether on the individual level, family level or national level, they all originate in the lack of love. The root cause of people’s psychological problems – whether a compulsion, phobia, neurosis or psychosis – is lack of love. The majority of psychological problems come from childhood because the child was not brought up properly with love. That is what destroys the mind of the child and goes on tormenting them for the rest of their lives. A child’s mind is very vulnerable and sensitive, and does not have a developed intelligence to process nor digest traumatic experiences. So when parents verbally and physically abuse a child, it makes a deep scar in the child’s unconscious mind that makes the child feel in chronic fear and anxiety, even decades after the abuse has occurred. And, unstable emotions such as fear and anxiety, or stress, cause unhealthy behaviors.
For example, people tend to eat more when they are in anxiety or stress. Eating is one of the primal ways to receive love. The only thing a newborn baby can digest is its mother’s breast milk. The mother is expressing her love for her child when she is giving this milk and the baby learns to equate their mother’s breast milk with love. Whenever the baby feels some anxiety, it cries and then the mother takes care of the child and breast feeds it. It is a natural instinct; whatever you give to a child, it will put it in its mouth and try to eat it. From this, the psychology of the child is developed to equate food with love. In later life, people tend to overeat when they are under anxiety (fear) or stress because they have learnt to equate food with love. In their desperate attempt to get love, they eat. Their eating then is an attempt to compensate for a feeling of lack of love. And the more anxiety and lack of love one feels, the more one eats, unconsciously trying to fill that void that can never be satisfied by food. The root cause of the problem lies in the mind and the unconscious mind (chitta). In fact, all the problems we suffer from actually start in the chitta.
The chitta is the storehouse of all of our experiences, and emotions. And the more intense that old emotion you experienced years ago was, the more control it has over your mind today. So, being mentally and physically abused by your parents has created a very painful experience in your chitta that won’t let you rest and feel happy and relaxed today. Even though it happened so long ago it still tortures you today. And despite the fact that your chitta has an amazing unlimited capacity for storage of all memories, feelings, thoughts, from this life and all past lives, the chitta does not store time. What this means is that just say your parents abused you twenty years ago. Your chitta does not store the time stamp along with your emotion, meaning that the fear and anxiety and worthlessness that you felt twenty years ago is the exact same as you feel today. Your chitta is not able to tell you, “Oh, sweetheart, you don’t have to be in anxiety about that because it is not happening now, it’s just a memory of something that happened to you long ago. You are not being abused now. Everything is fine now.” If our mind naturally worked like this, human beings would have a lot more peaceful existence. But, this is not the case. The majority of human beings are being controlled by the emotions from our past life experiences, and we are not even aware of it. So, it is wonderful that you are aware of your problem and that you are asking for help. That is the first step. And, now we will provide you with some practical steps you can implement to manage your mind and emotions.
Overeating, like any other habit or addiction, will not be easy to overcome. You have developed a habit of it, and your mind has done it so many hundreds or thousands of times that as hard as you worked to make this habit, you have to work three times as hard to break this habit. Because your mind, left to its own druthers, will continue to overeat because that is its comfort zone. And your ego does not like change, nor trying anything new. So your ego will support your mind in this overeating habit. Your mind and your ego are like a pair of dumb criminals working together to keep you stuck and miserable.
So, in order to heal this, there are two practical steps you can take.
1. Telling Yourself a Different Story
We need to enlist the help of another part of your mind, called your “buddhi,” or intelligence. In your case, as in almost everyone’s case, your buddhi is currently doing one of two things: sleeping or acting like a “yes man.” The buddhi is not acting in its power, discerning what is right from wrong and telling those two dumb criminals – your mind and ego, that they have a bad idea to keep on eating in order to get love, because no matter how much you eat, you will never find what you are looking for in food. Your buddhi can help you to manage the memories and feelings that come up from the chitta, by telling you that even though these feelings of anxiety feel so real and intense, they are actually just residual feelings that are coming up from a long time ago, and that you are fine now. You are not a small helpless little girl who can’t escape, and you are (hopefully) no longer still being mentally or physically abused by your parents. So, when you find yourself feeling anxious, fearful, worthless, or some other negative emotion, enlist your buddhi to tell yourself, “These are old feelings that are controlling me that I choose not to believe any longer. I am a sweet, loving, kind person who has a strong intelligence that I am using right now to control my painful feelings so I don’t act on them in ways that make me feel bad about myself.” You should write this statement down (or make your own version) and keep it with you. Read it anytime you need to, in order to manage those two dumb criminals.
2. Using Your Awareness
The buddhi also is your source of awareness and presence. So, the next time you find yourself reaching for that second helping, or snack, do so with awareness. What that means practically speaking, is let yourself move forward with your act of overeating, but do so with complete presence. Try to engage all of your senses in overeating. Slow down. Turn off the television, or any other external distraction. Just be present with the food. What does the food look like? What does it really look like? Really for the first time, notice the colors. The shape and texture. Before eating it, smell it. Slowly. Just smell. What does it smell like? Then touch it. Try to touch it like it is the first time you have ever touched anything. Let your fingers become hypersensitive. What do you notice about the feel of the food, that you have never noticed before? Still do not taste yet. Now before eating, think of Sri Krishna. Pull up a chair, or make a nice place for Krishna to sit with you. Make a place setting for Krishna. Talk to Him, and see if you can feel His love in your heart. Now, serve Him this food. Serve Him from your heart. Describe the food to Him. Tell Him what you noticed about how the food looks, smells, feels. And let Him enjoy while you sit quietly. Focus on your breath, taking long deep inhales, breathing in Krishna’s presence and love. Take Him all into your being. He is there with you. Once you sense that Krishna is full, and has enjoyed, then, slowly, with intention, eat your first bite of food. Feeling Krishna there with you, watching you eat His prasad. Notice how it tastes. Chew slowly slowly. Continue with this exercise, and with Sri Krishna as your companion, ever present with you in your heart.
You have to practice tolerance knowingly. That happens by having awareness. You have to also know that other people also have deficiencies as I have – they are not perfected beings so they cannot function exactly as I want them to. If we can keep these things in mind then we can remain more tolerant and composed, even in situations we can’t control.
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