Have You Learned this Important Lesson About Eating?
Teachers come in all shapes and sizes, they show up all guises, and the more teachers we have in life, the more we learn. Our relationship with food is one such great teacher. If we pay attention, it’s instructing us every day. And like any worthy teacher, it seems quite willing to teach us some of the same lessons over and over again, until we finally get things right. I’ve been noticing that there’s one particular lesson that food likes to instruct us about that’s not the easiest to learn, and may in fact be one of the more important ones to master. It’s a lesson that often strikes to the core of so many of our eating challenges. It’s a lesson that when we begin to notice and embrace it can be a nutritional game changer and an eating psychology breakthrough. It’s the lesson of instant gratification. And if you’re the kind of person who would like to have a more nourishing relationship with food and better manage such challenges as overeating, binge eating, emotional eating, food addiction and others – then you might want to jump into the topic of instant gratification as quickly as you can.
Humans want things NOW
If you’re alive and breathing on planet Earth, there’s a good chance that you want what you want, and you want it exactly when you want it. Why wait? Why put off the pleasure you could have in this very instant to some future time that might never come? This is not so much a random psycho-physiologic trait that people have, but rather it’s hardwired into our cellular memory and our neurochemistry. Here’s what I mean: Have you ever watched a crying, screaming, little infant put up a major fuss about who-knows-what, and then, when mama finally came along with bottle or breast that infant was promptly transformed into a quiet, satisfied little creature? Well, this is an experience that’s been in the human genome forever. Getting the food we want RIGHT NOW is an internally driven survival command that’s a brilliant feature of evolution and is designed to help ensure our safety and security.
It’s very important to nature that we, as infants, have the nutrition we need, and fast. It quiets us down and quickly resolves the incredible psychic and metabolic tension that builds inside us when we are hungry and in need. Instant gratification at this level works. It makes everyone a winner. Who could argue this aspect of evolution and nourishment?
But here’s the fascinating challenge: Many of us take this powerful drive well into our adult life and let it run the show. Somewhere inside us, we know that if we scream loud enough, or if we simply eat whatever we want in the moment we want it, everything will be okay. We can relax. We can bask in the glow of fulfillment and smile about how wonderful life is. Of course though, instant gratification, when allowed free reign, becomes a bit problematic. It can cause us to make poor choices. It can fuel overeating. It can instigate binge eating. It can impact weight gain, or hamper our ability to lose it. And it can drown us in our own guilt – we have a sense, later on, after the instant gratification moment has passed, where we realize we went against our own best intentions and deeper wishes…
So here’s the bottom line: Instant gratification has some clear short terms benefits, but brings with it some longer-term headaches.
And this is the double bind so many eaters face. Do we soothe the screaming toddler inside of us right now? Or can we put off our primal desire for instant gratification, use our insight and higher thinking, and see, from a clear intellectual place, that instead – we need to press the pause button and breathe a little before doing something we’ll likely regret.
Our relationship with food is truly a faithful teacher.
Complain as we might, many of us are learning the lessons of how to be a good adult. We’re maturing in character and soul. We’re being asked to evolve to a higher and more functional place, to reach our inborn potential and destiny. The strategy of instant gratification is great for infants, and not always so great for us older and wiser humans.
And indeed, we’re not just talking about food here. We’re talking about life. Can you think of some of the other places where we want things NOW? Those places where if we don’t get the goodies that the universe is supposed to reward us with, the humble demands that are rightfully ours, we get mean, we blame others, we yell at the world, we pout, we fuss, we complain, and in short, we conduct ourselves like spiritual brats?
If you face the challenge of dealing with the need for instant gratification from food – eating the sugar now, having the ice cream now, snacking whenever we want – then chances are it’s a deeper challenge we’re facing in other parts of life. We often want success now, the perfect relationship now, lots of money now, or for people to change and be the exact way we want them to be, right now. And it’s all coming from the same primal place within.
The good news is, as we learn to step into a place of dignity, to make space and to access our wisdom when we encounter the need for instant gratification – all the places in life where we enact this drama begin to heal.
Life needs us to relax. Things take time.
The intelligent design of the universe wants to make sure we learn how to think for the long term. There’s a screaming little kid inside so many of us that understandably resists these lessons. It just won’t grow up. It’s an innocent part of us, really. But it’s time let go and claim our inner authority. It’s time to trust more in life, and make decisions that have a generous impact on the future… This is perhaps one of the more beautiful and powerful practices we can have with food, and with life.
What ‘s been your experience with the lesson of Instant Gratification?
© Institute For The Psychology of Eating, All Rights Reserved, 2014
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