An Ayurvedic Take on Emotional Eating

In the Ayurvedic model, there are seven tissue layers through which food, and actually all experience, metabolize.  Food first passes through the Jathar Agni, the initial digestive fire, and transforms into the Rasa Dhatu, roughly translated as Plasma. Sticking to English equivalents of the Sanskrit terms, the food (or experience) transforms with specialized digestive fires sequentially through Blood, Muscle, Fat, Bone, Marrow/Nerve, Reproductive tissue, and finally into Ojas. Each of these tissue layers has emotional correlates.  Interestingly, the emotional quality of a healthy fat layer is self-love. And, also interestingly, the emotional quality of Ojas is cosmic love, or call it Self-Love.

It’s easy to see how having unhealthy fat (too much or too little) could affect one’s sense of self-love. And it’s equally easy to consider how a poor sense of self-love could contribute to an unhealthy fat layer. Let’s examine now how poor self-love contributes to unhealthy fat. 

We all know the term “emotional eating.” If we feel bad in some way, then it’s easy to eat too much or too little.  We’re eating from different cues than from hunger or the perceived needs of the body. That’s easy to observe; what to do about it?

Another way to say poor self-love would be to use the term self-hate. Like so many uncomfortable emotions, we humans avert from experiencing and integrating the feelings associated with self-hate.  Much of the time we would like to believe that we don’t suffer from such feelings. Or when we are in the throes of self-hate, we are so caught up in the story of it that self-awareness and real insight take a hit. It seems that either we are denying the existence of self-hate or we are deeply identified with it.

Self-hate, like anger, fear, or any other negative emotion, is simply a feeling encountered in this human experience. Every human has every feeling, at least at times. If it’s not an OK feeling to experience, if it’s not part of what we allow in our definition of ourselves, then it will stuff into the subconscious when it arises. Because we are in denial of its existence, we are blinded to its effects. 

Repressed self-hate expresses itself in self-destructive thinking, speaking, and actions. The Inner Critic thrives on self-hate.  If the Inner Critic gets spiritualized or externalized, it takes on airs and is hard to see for what it really may be, namely an expression of repressed self-hate. 

How does it express itself?  Procrastination, sarcasm, boredom, aloofness, substance or any other kind of abuse (of self or others). Self-hate may drive us to do some apparently good things, like exercise, education, service projects, and even spiritual practices.  Those are all fine, but if the drive is related to self-hate, then there’s probably going to be a problem down the road.  Like you find you are doing the opposite of the good stuff that you thought you wanted to be doing. 

If we are doing good things to try to make ourselves feel better, then that can only temporize at best. If we are trying to get confirmation from “out there”, from people telling us we are OK and loveable, then the pressure of unending struggle drives us to exhaustion. At some point we may rise up screaming, feeling a victim to all this need for do-goodedness.  

Oh, and the emotional eating?  That feeling of “I deserve?” Feeding ourselves is a form of loving ourselves, but it gets off-kilter when done unconsciously.  We’re not even tasting and experiencing the food, because we may be so caught up in feeling the reward, that external soothing from sweets, fats, or overeating. 

How do we get out of this?  How about going deeper into this?  If self-hate is the problem, then let’s go in and experience it.  I didn’t say act on it, but feel it.  Feel into the self-hate and all its associated stories from a point of highest consciousness.  Connect to Divine, chant mantra, breathe, get really still, however you do it.  And in that elevated and energized awareness, with an element of curiosity, go in and feel the self-hate.  Get familiar enough with it to be able to recognize it when it comes up at other times of the day.  Notice how you are the same as everyone else, see how self-hate is affecting all of humanity. Let it bust your heart open with compassion for yourself and others; we’ve all just been trying to avoid one of the basic feelings of embodied humanness.  It’s OK.

And this won’t resolve with one good, deep experience.  It will come up repeatedly, just like lima beans keep showing up.  And when lima beans show up, know that it’s time to experience lima beans. How do you know? Because here they are again.  Not a problem, just an experience.  Eat the lima beans and digest fully.  They don’t have to be your favorite food, but the experience of eating them without aversion might be life-transforming.

Shame, In Short