Eating when we are anxious: is anxiety making me fat?
Eating when we are anxious: is anxiety making me fat?
Recently I attended a conference where one presenter asked if participants ate more when they were anxious or stressed, or whether they ate less. In a group of nearly 400 only a handful of people put up their hand who ate less. I wasn’t one of them, as I know that when I am anxious about something I tend to eat – and overeat at that!
The number of people suffering from anxiety in the world is climbing through the roof, even in very young children.
"Anxiousness is the knowing that you are not equipped to deal with the day that is ahead of you. And this is because you are not with yourself to begin with."Serge Benhayon Esoteric Teachings & Revelations, Volume 1, ed 1, p 590
Depression and anxiety are widespread: one in five young New Zealanders will be affected by depression by the age of 18; almost one in five meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder (based on the criteria of the DMS-V) by age 19. One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
Although we usually associate the word ‘anxiety’ with a diagnosed mental disorder, most people, if not all, experience general anxiety on a daily basis due to our current way of living. For example, when we think we cannot cope with the day ahead of us, or when we feel there is no purpose in living and question the meaning of life, we can feel exhausted, run-down, miserable, and disconnected from ourselves and from life. For me, and I suspect for many, when this happens I turn to food.
Why do many of us eat more when we are anxious? Could this be contributing to the escalating obesity rates? Obesity and/or being overweight is on the rise worldwide – it has nearly tripled since 1975.
Maybe the reason lies in the fact that many do not feel equipped to deal with what they are sensing; what they are feeling. We are all sensitive beings and more often than not we eat so we can numb what we are sensing/ feeling. We all have six senses, not simply the five most know about (sight, sound, smell, taste and touch), yet we often try to navigate life via our five senses, particularly our senses of sight and sound. However, our sixth sense often has us feeling things that can’t be explained via the other five senses. Often we sense things that can leave us feeling tension, and it is this that can lead to eating so we can temporarily no longer sense these things and feel the tension.
For me, eating distracts me from feeling what I am anxious about. In other words, it takes my mind off it. It also seems to take the edge off the anxiety, although I have observed that that relief does not last long, because eating does not address the underlying issue of why I am feeling anxious in the first place.
Indeed, eating could be said to be a short-term ‘fix’ that only temporarily numbs my anxiety. The anxiety just comes back to bite me later! And … I find it can make me even more anxious, because I have the added anxiety of feeling bad about myself for overeating, plus when I overeat, or eat certain ‘comfort’ foods such as chocolate or cake, my body can feel very racy, or I get a sore stomach, which adds to the anxiety. Long term, if I overeat, or eat ‘fattening’ foods, I put on weight – and this makes me more anxious still. This becomes a vicious cycle of:
Anxious → eat → more stress → more anxiety → eat more …
In the past, in attempting to deal with the anxiety, I have focussed on whether I was feeling anxious about something that has happened, or something that might happen.
Whenever I found myself feeling anxious about something that might happen, I would take a stop moment and ask myself why I was feeling anxious about something that might never happen. I reminded myself that there is absolutely no point in worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet, as in all likelihood it will never happen. In other words, I tried to control my thoughts. However, this approach didn’t really work because I was still on the treadmill of anxiety – it didn’t change anything because the underlying condition of anxiety didn’t go away.
Over the last few years I have come to a deeper understanding with regard to my anxiety, learning two key aspects:
What I’ve learned in life is that I am never given more than I can handle, and this has made a huge difference whenever I feel anxiety arise. What does this mean to me?
For example, in the past whenever I felt overwhelmed with all the work I had to do, or all the responsibilities I had – to work colleagues, family members, friends, tasks I needed to complete – I would often come to a complete stop and do nothing! I was therefore a great procrastinator. Naturally this made me even more anxious and I would eat to cover that up, or to delay further. In time I came to understand that the anxiety was actually all in my head, and that if I could come back into my body, it would go away, because it wasn’t the real me. So, in truth the anxiousness was because I was not connected to my whole body.
I only understood this when I began to really feel my body, and feel my essential stillness, through the practice of Esoteric Yoga and the Gentle Breath Meditation™. I can come back very quickly from feeling anxious now, simply by feeling the movement of my breath in my lower ribs, or by placing my hands on my body somewhere. When I do this, I can feel my breath slow down, and I feel a deep connection to myself, which is a beautiful feeling of stillness, harmony and love. When I am thus connected, there is no room for anxiety or stress; it simply isn’t in the picture – and I find myself completing tasks one at a time without delay or overwhelm.
I know now that I have many inner resources as my body holds an inner wisdom that I can connect to at any time – the wisdom I was born with – and in and with that connection I am capable of accessing everything I need to handle every situation. It is lack of this connection to who I truly am – a child of the stars – that can make me anxious. When I come back to who I truly am, and the power of that, the anxiety melts away.
Similarly, in the past when I was anxious about something that has happened, again I would take a stop moment and ask myself why I was feeling anxious about something I probably had no control over, or that I couldn’t change. And again, this approach didn’t really work for me because the underlying condition of anxiety didn’t go away. What I have learned and understood over the last few years is that everything happens for a reason, because life is about evolution – we are here to expand, learn and evolve – and that often I am anxious because I don’t want to embrace the lessons I am being faced with, or the things I need to expand into.
"In the livingness everything matters and thus everything is significant, for there is an energy to contend with and know about if what occurs is not that which one chooses to have. This means that – ‘the everything’ is ordered by a knowing that all is a series of constellations that occur either in reflection or in alignment to that which energetically impulses all life to be."Serge Benhayon Esoteric Teachings and Revelations Volume II, Ed 1, p 41
It is this deeper understanding that has exposed and broken through the cycle of anxiety for me. When I live from this understanding, things change for me.
An example of this is when I hear someone in my family or circle of friends has had an accident or becomes ill. Instead of going into anxiety about that, I remind myself there is a reason for the accident or illness, and it could be as simple as the person needing a rest, or that I need to let go my desire to protect others.
For example, my younger sister has early-onset dementia. When she was first diagnosed nearly five years ago, I used to be really worried about what was going to happen to her, especially when she did not ask for my support. I was also anxious about the grief I felt at ‘losing’ my sister and friend, and about the fact that I could not protect her from her illness. As my ‘baby’ sister, I realised I had always protected her. So, when I couldn’t protect her this time, I felt bad about myself and because of this I felt anxious. Later, when she was in a home for people with dementia, where she was locked in, whenever I visited her I went home and ate chocolate or cake. I came to understand that the eating was to numb what I was feeling – the anxiety and the sadness – which only drove me deeper into the anxiety and sadness, so I was unable to feel what might be the reason for my sister’s illness. Now when I leave the home, I say to myself, “it is not my job to protect my sister”. This understanding of life from the bigger picture, when I can sit back and feel the bigger reason, has brought me to a place where I no longer need to eat to cover up the anxiety.
I remember once collapsing at work with the flu. It was when I had a legal job and was also over-exercising. I was constantly in drive, to be ‘better’ and to ‘do’ more, which I now realise gave me a false sense of feeling good about myself. I was often tired so ate a lot so I could keep going. I was so sick that I had to call my husband to take me home as I couldn’t drive or even walk by myself. I recall at the time feeling really anxious about everything I had to do and couldn’t do while I was laid up in bed for a week. However, my body gave me no choice but to rest and not eat for a few days. Now I have understood that the flu was a healing for me because it stopped the momentum and constant state of anxiety I was in and allowed me to rest deeply.
Asking why I eat when I am anxious, and understanding that there is a bigger picture, has been a game changer for me in overcoming anxiety and the urge to eat to not feel the anxiety.
What causes anxiousness?
The world is experiencing an epidemic of anxiousness. So what exactly is anxiousness and what is going on here?