Food: Fill Up or Fulfill?

Co-authored by Jan Jennings & Dr. Darryl Luke Pokea

Our emotional well being is just as important as the healthy foods we eat. Our stomach may also gurgle and growl to alert our mind to something unhealthy. It is a loyal, protective friend to our body. It doesn’t always want to be filled up. As we stay attuned to our “gut sense,” we can be aware of what is truly comforting, loving, and safe in our physical and emotional fulfillment.

Our minds have been saturated with advertisements about fast food. Marketers, who are trained in psychology, have used their understanding of our unconscious mind to appeal to each of our deep longings for fulfillment. They are experts in planting messages in our mind that instant happiness can be dished out if we only fill up with their products.

One TV commercial shows a mother having trouble getting her children to come from the playground to the car. Her solution is to take an empty fast food bag and hold it up showing the children, who then quickly obey and run to the car. Using food as a bribe catches our attention as an easy solution for controlling our children’s behavior. From an early age we are vulnerable to these hidden attempts to control and are easily socialized into thinking that food brings fulfillment for all our needs.

Another advertisement shows an infant choosing the preferred soft drink in their crib. The camera zooms in for a close up of their content, happy, smiling face in making the right choice. Television commercials artfully display conflict in daily living. Then they instruct us to choose their food product to amazingly resolve the conflict they created. All this occurs in carefully contrived images placed before the screen of our minds in thirty to sixty seconds.

Of course, this does not fill up our genuine desire to be happy and fulfilled. Nor does it discipline our children and solve our problems with raising them. These images plant weed seeds in our mind that form an endless habit of turning to food to resolve our conflicts. We can also be maneuvered to think that food will fill up the part of ourselves that has genuine longing for meaning, happiness and fulfillment. All this quickly enters our mind as we watch the commercials that reinforce and perpetuate a habit that food will solve problems as well as replenish our energy and provide happiness. When food is presented as the solution for all our inner needs, there can never be enough.

Recently, when I was exploring the experiences of meaning, happiness and fulfillment with a class of third graders, a bright girl raised her hand and said, “I hate what you are talking about, because a happy meal is what really does make me happy and my Mom shows how much she loves me by buying me one.” About 15% of the class quickly agreed with her. Commercials that manipulate the mind through food may be contributing to over 10% of our children, ages two to five, being overweight and 16%, ages six to nineteen, that are found to be obese.

It is easy to recognize that food has been used in mixed ways. Our basic need for it has been used as a reward, a bribe, and part of celebrations for birthdays, holidays, family gatherings and most of our social exchanges. It may truly comfort us but it also confuses us. We all know that our body’s cries of hunger may also mirror other feelings of emptiness. Dr. Candice Pert found that the same neural transmitters secreted in our emotional brain are also found in the lining of our stomach. Our stomach is a direct visceral expresser of our emotions.

We first experience our emotions in these guttural ways as little children before we are able to verbalize feelings. These same gut feelings continue to be expressed in adulthood. As adults we tend to both intellectualize and verbalize our feelings, though they remain somatic (in our gut, our body). Just as little children say, “my tummy hurts” when there is conflict within them or around them, we adults, in our haste, may make the mistake of putting something in our stomach as an attempt to fill up and cover up this amazing visceral gustatory sense (taste) response.

Iwama Kazuo, former president of Sony Corporation, used his gustatory sense to assist in all his business decisions. He recognized that when he got a bad taste in his mouth during the process of his business dealings with people, the nasty taste was a primal warning sign that something was imbalanced, sick, or destructive in his dealings with some people. His gut expressed the deepest information he needed to know in making informed business decisions.

We all have this gut sense. We experience emptiness in our stomach when we feel that we are manipulated, hurt, or when someone tries to project their emotional pain into us. It is easy to misinterpret these sensations by thinking our stomach is saying it needs something on the inside when really what it is saying is that something is wrong on the outside. When we ignore our body’s signals, we can unknowingly mask our early warning system. We lose the moment that our body is alerting us to. Later, in our home, as we reflect on our day, we may feel empty and hungry not realizing that these gut feelings may be reenactments of feelings, reactions and warnings from earlier in the day.

When we pause and reflect on our gustatory sense, we recognize that our stomach may be growling and/or feeling empty because someone may have alienated us, humiliated us, or attempted to project their emptiness into us. We may not have been fully in touch with our visceral sensations at the time, but later, in the safety of our home, a queasy feeling in our gut may resurface, reminding us of an unresolved negative encounter. Our stomach is our ally, the early warning system that directly expresses our emotions. It may be letting us know that someone has attempted to destroy our wellness, our enthusiasm, our energy.

Though we may eat plenty, we may not feel replenished as our sense of contentment and fulfillment were diminished deep within. If we listen to our stomach’s pangs and reflect on the day, we can understand that we may not be hungry for food, but feel a need for comfort because someone has taken part of our emotional well being. We can learn to recognize these thefts of our energy while they are in progress, change to a healthier environment, and refill ourselves with love and nurturance rather than food. For instance, if we suddenly feel tired and drained for no apparent reason, we can gracefully make a quick exit from the individual, group or situation.

We can be attuned again to the meaning of our visceral sensations knowing that the hunger we experience may be expressing more than a need for food. Identity theft may be a growing overt problem, but our deepest identity in feeling lovable and loving ourselves may be stolen more often than we realize. There are many energy thieves in the world who have not learned to love themselves. Instead, they postpone their learning to love by taking wellness, contentment and fulfillment from others. We can preserve our peace of mind and emotional energy, and not give it up to those who misuse it.

In its wisdom and intricate design, our body creates fat cells for reserve energy and to protect its vital organs from excessive toxicity. When we don’t consciously release negative thoughts and feelings, our body may keep them in storage in its layers of fat cells. More and more layers of fat may be created, if we don’t consciously release both environmental and emotional toxins. Our wise body protects its vital organs by pushing the poisons away from the organs into the surrounding fat cells. If we are unaware that others have projected toxic emotions into us, the release may be inhibited and more fat cells created to store that which we haven’t yet released and doesn’t belong in us anyway. People who show disrespect can be quite toxic because they use other people as dumping grounds for their negative thoughts and emotions. When we recognize our energy is being stolen, we do not have to compensate by having more layers of fat cells than are healthy.

Our skin is the physical barrier between the outer world and our inner processes. The body also places many layers of protective fat cells just under our skin. These fat cells in conjunction with our skin become the body’s defense barrier between the poisons of the outer world and our vital inner organs. When we understand this design in our body we can consciously keep healthier emotional boundaries between the outside world and our inner selves. Then we do not have to build more physical boundaries of fat cells to protect us and keep our life energy whole.

All of us can learn to trust our gut reactions as we did as children. When we open again to these gustatory insights, we can quickly discern which social exchanges truly nurture us and which can harm and empty us. Our emotional well being is just as important as what healthy foods we eat. Our stomach gurgles and growls to alert our mind and warn us that something is unhealthy. It is a loyal, protective friend to our body. It doesn’t always want to be filled up. It is there for both our mind and body so that we may know what is truly comforting, loving, and safe in our physical and emotional fulfillment.

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