Fear of want and the urge to hoard
Most people will never let themselves go hungry. When was the last time we allowed it to happen to us?
Being overweight is one of the things that ages us most. Not only does it place a strain on the body and make it more susceptible to disease but our appearance can take on the look of someone far beyond our years. Carrying extra weight is, however, as many of us know not just a matter of eating too much. There are usually psychological reasons beyond the physical ones which cause our bodies to store fat. Tackling these issues at the root is important if we are to have any chance of shedding extra pounds.
There is increasing evidence that fear of hunger causes obesity. Many overweight people carry food with them to avoid finding themselves suffering from hunger pangs and not being able to find food in time. Some of this may come from dire tales from grandparents who experienced undernourishment, where food really was unavailable, even though today food surrounds us wherever we go. More profound reasons are linked to a lack of love in childhood where eating became an emotional survival solution. We believed then that although our emotional needs were unmet, at least our physical body would survive until we were independent. Carried into adulthood, we may however believe we do not deserve to have our emotional needs met, so we compensate.
But there is another reason why we carry excess weight – the fear of never having enough. Our society is predicated on the belief there are limited resources, and that only those who go out of their way to ensure they get what they need will survive. According to this belief those who do not get there first in the scramble for basic necessities will perish. We have all to some extent internalized the alarmist theory of Professor Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb, written in the 1960s which began with the words, In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death, a theory that repeated the Malthusian catastrophe argument that population growth will exceed the capacity of farming to provide for everyone. Despite the fact that the opposite has happened – food supply is now overabundant, portions bigger than ever, and food can be found at any time of the day or night – we still live according to this prospect.
Our fear of lack is still there. It is similar to our fear of poverty. If we have difficulties with the issue of money – and people who have no secret fear of not being able to pay the bills are rare – then it is very possible we have the same issue, subconsciously, surrounding food. We hoard money in savings accounts, and in the same way our bodies hoard food “just in case”. “I went on a retreat to a monastery in a remote part of France,” said Alison, “I was driven there by someone else, and once I was in my room, I realized I felt anxious because I had no control over when and what I would eat. There were no shops for miles around, and I was completely dependent on the kitchen staff. When mealtimes arrived, I ate far more than usual.”
Prolonged periods in highly regulated environments can however lead to our bodies eventually settling down. If the responsibility for providing for ourselves is removed for months on end – such as in a boarding school, cloister or prison – our weight regulates. But as soon as the onus is again on us, we feel the need to hoard.
This is not something to be ashamed of. It is part of our heritage. Until recently, starvation was what most human beings spent their entire lives trying to avoid. Feeling ravenous was so common the human body adapted to it, and consequently a body which never experiences hunger is unlikely to benefit from the health perks of low blood sugar and the protective cellular response to harsh external conditions. For those of us who believe in reincarnation, most of our past lives were marked by the real prospect of famine. The urge to eat was therefore burnt into our psyche. For those of us who do not believe in reincarnation, most of the lives of our ancestors were marked by the real prospect of famine. The urge to eat was therefore burnt into our genome.
Hibernating animals also eat large amounts of food before they settle down for the winter. Their metabolic rate slows down in a similar way to that experienced by the repetitive dieter – with the difference that they also stop eating. Humans never stop eating…yet the urge to hoard persists.
This is perhaps the first life we have lived – or the first time our genes have been expressed – in a period of unlimited food supply. But the fear of vulnerability is a response characteristic of all living organisms. We don’t have enough money, or fear we might not, and so we store fat, even though we know that the probability of starving to death is, in most countries, near to zero. The ability of the mind to overrule the body’s need to burn fat for energy is something all life-time dieters will attest to. Even if we eat practically nothing, that roll of fat around our middle simply will not go away.
It is time for us to accept the abundant food supply of our earth. There has probably never been a time in our lives when we had to worry about where to find food. It is no longer necessary for our body to store large amounts of fuel for the next famine. Instead, we can see this energy as storable outside the body, available to download whenever necessary in the same way we might prefer an external hard disk rather than storing everything on the computer. If we wish to shed the stores of fat which lead to low self-esteem, dissatisfaction with our appearance, frustration at not feeling attractive and ultimately ill health, we need to tackle our terror of lack. Here are some affirmations to help us do just this.
Next time we feel hungry, and several times during the day, we place our hands on our abdomen and affirm : Food comes frequently and easily. It is abundant and in constant supply. I can access food whenever I choose.
The time of famine has gone forever. Gradually, our body will get the message, and adjust to the shape we long to be.
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