It’s probably a holdover from my younger days, but I never put a lot of stock in discussions of spirituality until recently. To me, the word always conjured up images of long-haired, long-bearded gurus who didn’t seem to touch my world. A few years ago, however, I heard a woman speak on spiritual hunger, and given the relevance of what she had to say to the area I was working in, I sat up and paid attention.
The gist of her talk had to do with the fact that there are different kinds of hunger that may be affecting our eating behaviors. One kind is obvious – physical hunger. (Actually, that’s not always so obvious. Following dieting advice that tells us to ignore our feelings of physical hunger and only eat at certain times, many women are confused about what physical hunger feels like. But that’s a topic for another post.) Another kind of hunger is emotional. Most of us are tuned into that one because we’ve been convinced that we’re emotional eaters (again, a topic for another post). The kind of hunger I want to focus on in this post is spiritual hunger. I suppose spiritual hunger can fall under the category of emotional hunger, but I prefer to give it its own category because of the real weight it carries in our lives.
What is spiritual hunger? My friend and colleague, Gretchen Newmark, MA, RD, describes it well in her paper titled Spiritual Hunger. She mentions a Buddhist concept (oops – those gurus again – obviously, I should have listened long ago) called Duhkha, which “in part means the ordinary suffering we endure when, driven by habit, we constantly look to the next moment for fulfillment, rather than enjoying things are they are in the present moment.” For weight strugglers, she gives a particularly apt example: “We might notice it while we are eating a meal and thinking about the next one, or when we don’t taste the bite in our mouths because we are hurrying to take another.” She gives a number of other examples, too, that capture our harried lives that leave little time for recognizing and enjoying the pleasure, joy and even peace of the moment.
Being the overachiever I am, I can definitely relate to this idea; I suspect that many of you do also. My takeaway from it is to slow down, stay in touch with myself and start to enjoy my life a bit more. There’s a real benefit to my eating here: By being in touch, I’m better aware of when I’m really hungry for food, and when my cravings actually stem from something else.
I encourage you to read Gretchen’s whole paper on the subject, but in case you’re still rushing, I share this little snippet of advice that leaves me with a wonderful feeling. I marvel at the potential it holds if I can learn to practice it regularly: “This very moment, we can look up from this page, take a breath, notice our bodies as they are right now, the surfaces that support us, the clothing and air that touch our skin, our thoughts and feelings as they come and go. We can notice our breath, feeding and nourishing us. We can say, ‘This is enough. This is good.’”