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 from food. 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.

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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?

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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?

Warm regards,
Marc David
Institute for the Psychology of Eating
© Institute For The Psychology of Eating, All Rights Reserved, 2014

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  • Our relationship with food is truly a faithful teacher.

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  • Wow, that really, really hits the mark. Incredible.
    I’ve already signed up for the course so to read this one thing before we start is wonderfully fortuitous.
    Thank you.

    • Hi Belinda,
      So glad you enjoyed it – and happy to hear you’re joining the course this fall.
      Lots of good things coming up!

  • Michaela

    My experience with instant gratification has been a bit like this:
    The more that I don’t wish to feel my feelings or recognise my own shadow energies, the more that I tend to swing towards instant gratification. It was not just playing out in the area of eating, although this was the most obvious; it was the same with my finances, too. Since embracing all areas of myself and making an internal shift first, I have experienced significant healing in both my relationship with food and with money. I love your final heading and I also believe that our relationship with food truly is a faithful, timeless healer.

    • Hi Michaela,
      What a beautiful observation!
      Amazing how all things tend to have that tread of connection – good for you for spotting it.
      Thank you for sharing,

  • cl

    This is very good information. however, I would like to know what to do when that hunger takes over and I can’t even think or function.

    • Hi CL –

      The short answer is, if you’re getting to the point where hunger is just taking over – where you “cannot think or function” chances are you might just waiting too long to eat. Also, take note of the kinds of foods you eat and how you react to them – some foods leave us feeling hungrier faster than others, especially poor quality foods. Maybe you need more protein or fat in your diet, maybe more fruits and vegetables, maybe more starch – everyone’s different. If you’ve waited too long between meals, or experience blood sugar issues, then it’s very important to know what your cycles are and know to always have an emergency snack on hand. And some good coaching or professional help is always useful here…

      Best regards,

  • Lily

    Instant gratification has been the most central part of living a constant battle with bulimia and binge eating disorder. I have a history of annorexia, so my body has to have food right now, when i think of that food, or when food is near me. Its like if i didnt eat it right now and all of it and quickly, I cant survive. I especially struglle when im tired and in the evenings, alone. Unfortunately i absolutley know that it only makes things worse, but i cant stop. Ive woken up in the middle of night and driven to the store to satisfy the want to have peanut butter or chocolate…(SUGAR). I get uncomfortable when i cant be around the food I want, which is usually extremely healhy when not in a bingeing cycle! But to want things right now is something that is present in all areas. I want to get better NOW. I want to loose weight NOW. I want to go here NOW. I want to leave right NOW! and I cant bear the feeling when i cant have things now, I get anxious and fearful. Everything is so fast paced. I can only dream of the day when everything has slowed down and i can approach eating and my life using mindfulness.

    • Hi Lily,
      Healing takes time. I think this is a fact of life. We are all here to grow and learn, and eating challenges can be some of the most powerful life issues that we might ever face. Of course, I’d love to see you getting some professional support and help. This is such a great way to get on a good path and get where you want to go a little easier, and with lots more care. That said, have you seen our Graduate Directory? It’s searchable by location as well as by specialty. I highly recommend you use this tool to discover someone close by or someone who is willing to work with clients over the phone or skype. Here’s the link to the directory for your convenience:

      Please don’t hesitate to reach out if I can help you further.

      Wishing you all the best,

      • Lily

        Thank you Marc,

        I live in the UK so no graduates here unfortunately.

        I have had lots of professional help, including two stints in ‘rehab’ centres, however I believe these only worsened my disorder by being force fed not very healthy foods. Since taking a more holistic approach by myself, using super foods, juices along with yoga, meditation I am slowly beginning to see an improvement, albeit a slow one. I feel there is such a lack of ‘professional’ care who actually take notice of nutrition and alternative approaches, although in some cases the more ‘conventional’ way may be best suited.

        One day, when I am ready, I would love to teach other people about nutrition and help those suffering from what I have experienced using an approach like you guys do at the IPE, I would have done the course if i could have afforded too! I think this along with yoga, may be my calling in life, however I am currently stuck studying at University and working in Real Estate….! One day….

        Thanks so much Marc for your help though and such great resources you and the IPE provide, it has opened so many doors for me, especially since listening to the conference a few months back with so many amazing people to listen to. I am so grateful.


        • Hi Lily,
          Thanks for your reply.
          As for no UK grads, there are many grads who work over skype or the phone, and I personally know that distance need not be a barrier to great self-work and transformation.

          In our Graduate Directory – I would recommend seeking out someone who you feel drawn towards. We would also be happy to match with someone we think would be good support for you. Let us know!

          Yoga and Eating Psychology could be a very healing combination. We look forward to having you study with us in the future!


  • Wonderful post!! Very beautifully written!

    • Hi Brittany – so glad you liked it!


  • Dottie

    This article was very informative and helpful. I had never seen it explained like this. It’s so right on with the instant gratification for me, and not just with food like you mention. I’ve had the feeling I should be able eat what I want and this message makes me understand it all better. I love your comment “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.” to help us resolve this behavior.
    This was so helpful as intellectually it makes sense and I can pinpoint something specific for me to notice and do. Thank you,

    • Hi Dottie,
      Thanks for reaching out and sharing your experience. I’m a fan of using the mind and the heart together. Thanks so much for joining in here!


  • Good article! It is true, the way we are these days, especially with eating, is instant gratification.

  • Ayal

    Great insights. Recognizing the desire for instant gratification is the first step towards being able to overcome it and refocus on long term goals. Thanks for the inspirational article!

About The Author
Marc David

Marc David is the Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, a leading visionary, teacher and consultant in Nutritional Psychology, and the author of the classic and best-selling works Nourishing Wisdom and The Slow Down Diet. His work has been featured on CNN, NBC and numerous media outlets. His books have been translated into over 10 languages, and his approach appeals to a wide audience of eaters who are looking for fresh, inspiring and innovative messages about food, body and soul. He lectures internationally, and has held senior consulting positions at Canyon Ranch Resorts, the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, the Johnson & Johnson Corporation, and the Disney Company. Marc is also the co-founder of the Institute for Conscious Sexuality and Relationship.