Discovering the cause of a problem leads us towards its solution, so with any health issue we may ask ourselves, “is this a physical problem with my body or a psychological one created by my mind?” This is especially true in the field of addiction: is it created by a physical dysfunction of hormones or deficiency in neurotransmitters, for example, or the result of the ways in which I think, my beliefs and attitudes?
Do you tend to think it’s one or the other? My guess, and of course it’s not just mine, is that it’s never one or the other, but always degrees of both. The mind and the body are in a continuous, two-way communication that is so profound and extensive that nobody has been able to prize them apart completely. What happens in the mind has an effect on the body. And what happens in the body has an effect on the mind. Always. Because there really is no separation.
Our culture, of course, has done a thorough job of promoting the separation of body and mind for quite some time. Think of the depressed patient, talking through their problems with their therapist, who has never tried changing what they eat. Or someone happily taking medication for high blood pressure, never considering that meditation could achieve the same result.
When it comes to overeating, physical causes are inevitably invoked; most commonly nutritional need (known as body wisdom or intuitive eating) or insulin dysregulation from carbohydrate intake. But research has accumulated over recent years that points to the activation of the brain’s reward system as the source of our excess desire to eat. While that reward system is a physical mechanism – essentially the dopamine pathways – it’s activated by the psychological state of expectation. (1)
Genuine hunger aside, we don’t feel like eating – or more to the point overeating – in situations where we have no expectation of eating. Examples will differ from person to person, but I would have no expectation of eating when I’m visiting my doctor, during an aerobics workout or while leading one of my seminar sessions. There’s no food available and I’ve never eaten anything in those circumstances in the past, so I have absolutely no expectation of eating and therefore no desire to eat while I’m in those circumstances.