Do you turn to food during stressful situations?

Human behaviourist Dr John Demartini explains why you will fill your life with food when you’re feeling unfulfilled

When we feel our lives our meaningless and unfulfilled, we want a quick fix, whether it’s eating to feel full, or going shopping. This is a temporary, hedonistic fix. It’s important to distinguish between a temporary fix and a meaningful fulfilment or the joy of eating can become the sorrow of overeating.

If, for instance, you have a project at work that’s extremely important and you’re inspired by it and you can’t wait to do it and you’re really engaged in it, you don’t think about food. All you think about is the project. But if you’re not engaged, you will probably look at the clock as you want to do something else or you want a break. Basically when you’re unengaged you’ll typically emotionally live to eat, and when you’re engaged, you’ll wisely eat to live. It’s that simple.

Eating to live is eating wisely for a purpose. Living to eat is eating unwisely for the sake of the pleasure of eating, which can create the pain of overeating. It’s not an uncommon human behavioural pattern to overeat in stressful situations.

So make sure to prioritise your daily actions and do something most important and meaningful.  If you have time on your hands to be eating like that, you have got nothing else better to do. And if you have a habit of overeating when you are under stress and you are gaining weight as a result, you are eating more than you need. You are then wiser to prioritise your life and do something meaningful to feel inwardly fulfilled before you feel you must become outward filled.

The first step is to work out what is meaningful to you and start filling your day with truly inspiring things. Ask yourself what the highest priority actions are that you can do today, things that are the most meaningful and most fulfilling so that you don’t have to fill your life with food.

If you’re feeling that you are doing everything for everybody else, and you’re feeling unfulfilled, then you’re more vulnerable to going to fill yourself full. Buying things (consumerism) is another form of overeating. People who have to go shopping and can’t stop are often trying to satisfy an unfulfilled need.

If you are overeating, sit down and write an exhaustive list of all the conscious and unconscious benefits you are getting by doing so. You would not be overeating unless you consciously or unconsciously perceived that you were going to receive more advantages than disadvantages in doing so. Put stars next to the benefits that are big eye openers (wows, ah has) and possibly that even bring tears of realisation to your eyes. Then ask yourself, what are the viable alternative ways of getting the same benefits without eating? If you don’t have alternative ways of getting the same benefits, you will just keep eating, because it’s the only solution you know. So you need to go and find a few key viable alternatives that will give you the most of these same benefits. Once you find those few key viable alternatives and link them to your highest values by asking, “how specifically will doing these few key viable alternatives help you fulfil what is most important and meaningful to your life?”) you can then move into doing those activities instead of overeating or over-consuming.

When you are living congruently and in accordance your highest values and you feel your life is meaningful and fulfilled, the executive centre in your frontal cortex will come on line and you will have resilience, you will have the lowest probability of stress because you’re willing to embrace challenge and support equally. Because of that, you’re less stressed. But when you are not doing what is most important and meaningful in your life then your amygdala can come on line and you can become more vulnerable to distress.

Stress is only a perception. For instance, if I hit your thumb, it’s painful and you see that as stress. But if I say, I will give you a billion dollars cash if you let me hit your thumb, then you won’t mind me hitting your thumb at all. So it’s your perception of what is going to happen that is stressful. A lot of things you think are going to happen, don’t. But it’s your anticipation of those things that causes you stress.

Stress is an assumption that you are about to lose what you want or gain what you don’t want. There are two stresses – fear of starvation and fear of being eaten. All stresses go back to those two primitive forms of behaviour. The fear of loss of what you want or what supports your highest values, and the fear of gain of what you don’t want or what challenges your highest values. That’s what stress is.

So if you can take what you think is a loss and find the new gains and benefits of that, and take what you think you’re going to gain and find the drawbacks of that, and neutralise it out, your stress levels will go. But most people don’t believe that there are a balance of benefits and drawbacks, but inevitably there is. They believe simplistically that something is either good or bad. They are very fundamental. The more fundamental they are, the more stressed their life is and the more likely their expectations will be unrealistic and unmet and the more likely their life will feel unfulfilled.


Dr. John Demartini is a human behaviour specialist, educator, author and the founder of the Demartini Institute.

Leave a Reply