The human body is an incredibly sophisticated organism, capable of performing numerous complex tasks simultaneously. However, certain functions can consume such a huge amount of energy that they cause others to slow down: especially digestion of food, and the experience of strong emotions. For a person experiencing grief or another type of extreme emotional distress, often the appetite disappears completely. This is because whole body is occupied with emotion, and there simply is not the energy for digesting food. Often people experiencing this type of distress are encouraged to force themselves to eat, however this may interfere with the emotional process that the person needs to go through – diverting energy to the digestive system when it is needed elsewhere. Even for less extreme emotions, changes in the digestive system occur. We know that stressed people often have a reduced appetite and suffer from constipation. This is because the body simply does not have the energy to properly digest food. On the other hand, uncomfortable emotions can cause people to overeat. We are all familiar with the expression “comfort eating” and the stereotype of a heartbroken person crying in front of the television eating a pizza or ice-cream. In some cases the person is trying to numb the pain by eating to the point of exhaustion, diverting energy to the digestive system to lessen the intensity of the negative emotions. Also, the types of foods that comfort-eaters crave are often rich in sugars, carbs and fats, producing a drug-like “high” feeling which distracts from emotional pain. The everyday stress and boredom that many people experience at work often result in comfort eating or generally eating too much as people seek relief through distraction.
This type of eating does will only bring a very temporary relief to the emotional discomfort and will actually make the problem worse by creating a physical problem as strain is placed on the digestive system. Trying to solve an emotional problem by eating simply does not work, but many of us have had a lifetime of conditioning teaching encouraging us to use this strategy – so what can we do to break it? One very powerful technique is to simply ask the question “why am I hungry?”. Next time you find yourself standing by your open fridge, examine your reasons wanting to eat – is your body genuinely in need of nourishment or are you trying to avoid an uncomfortable emotion? If you are eating for emotional reasons, it would be beneficial to first explore the emotion and consider if there are other ways of dealing with the situation. Of course, breaking the habit of a lifetime is much easier said than done, but simply brining awareness is an important first step. The practice of detoxing is a very powerful tool for bringing awareness to our eating habits, in the same way that Yoga and meditation bring awareness to the body and mind.
Detoxing can mean cutting out unhealthy foods, and drugs like caffeine and alcohol, or it could mean a period of fasting. Our detox program at the Vagabond Temple involves a diet consisting only of coconut water, supported by Yoga, meditation, massage and teaching sessions. Many participants notice waves of very strong emotions during the detox. This is because the digestive system is no longer using up energy, so previously repressed thoughts and emotions can come up. Negative emotions and thoughts can be thought of in a similar way to toxins, the body needs to get rid of them. Freeing up your digestive system can make this process possible. After the waves of strong emotions have passed, people report feeling very light, energetic and free from negativity. Once a person has learnt to bring awareness to their hunger, bad eating habits can be broken allowing for a more healthy way of dealing with emotion. The Vagabond Temple in Cambodia offers a complete detoxification program that involves a coconut-water fast, yoga, meditation, as well as Reiki and massage sessions to support participants through the process.