Disappointment and Food

Disappointment is a natural part of life. Yet in the ego’s version of life, in its movie script, the scenes involving disappointment all get cut. The ego assures us that if we follow its plan life will deliver the unbroken happiness we expect. The ego’s life plan contains only sunny, cloudless days and we as dutiful complicitors bask in the unending caress of its gentle rays.

That’s the fairy tale and life is something else altogether. When the inevitable and happens and life deviates from the ego’s plan, even in small ways, like we ordered our eggs overeasy and our wheat toast dry and instead the server delivers scrambled eggs and white toast dripping with butter, the belief arises in us that such a thing shouldn’t be happening. Afterall we made our preferences clear and life in the form of a communication malfunction between us, the server, and the cook had the audacity not to conform to our expectation.

Or when we’re talking on the phone and the person on the other end is having difficulty reaching a point or repeats the same complaint seven times despite the fact that you shared how you plan to remedy the situation after the first recitation.

But those examples are small potatoes right? They’re nothing compared to not getting the promotion we’ve been working toward for years or the one we love not loving us back or our dearest, closest friend getting sick or god forbid, dying.

We all know that despite the most painstaking efforts and the most scrupulous planning, life does always not cooperate, does not conform to our desires. We work hard in school, get good grades, go to college and after graduation we can’t find a job. Or we take great care of our health, eating healthy and exercising our whole live and we still contract a terminal illness.

Then, there is the other kind of disappointment. We follow our desires and lo and behold, they’re realized in ways that are even beyond our wildest expectations. The problem is that in spite of getting everything we wanted and then some, we’re still not fulfilled or happy. Then what? Life definitely shouldn’t feel like this!

When disappointment rolls in like a thick dark cumulous cloud covering over our natural happiness, what are we to do other than follow the course of least resistance, reaching for the food. In a way, this is a loving impulse on our part. We are trying to sooth ourselves by distracting ourselves from our uninvestigated thinking—the true cause of our discomfort.

What could be more natural? We grew up in a culture that used food to distract us from life’s discomforts and unpleasantness. When we needed a shot at the doctor’s office, the nurse gave us a lollipop. It’s how we’ve been conditioned. Rather than learning to stay with and experience painful sensations, we’re taught to rid ourselves with it as quickly as possible by taking a pill or jumping into another relationship to replace our lost lover. It’s the old bate and switch.

If we’ve come to view food as one of life’s main pleasures, we use pleasure food this way too. After all, it never disappoints. When you bite into a chocolate chip cookie, you get exactly what you expected: a pleasurable taste sensation in your mouth—for a few short seconds anyway. Then the sensation disappears until you refill your mouth with another bite and another bite and so on and so on. Before you know it, you’ve shoveling and stuffing, two fisted if necessary, just to keep reality out of your awareness. But if you tell yourself the truth about it, the cookies can’t do this for you. They can’t help you escape.

You keep eating the cookies because they taste so delicious it’s hard to stop. But you’re so distracted by the “should” and “shouldn’t” thoughts that gave rise to your disappointment that after the first few bites, the taste hardly matters. You’re to busy shoveling in cookies and thinking and feeling to notice the taste sensation that you hoped would distract you from the discomfort of feeling your disappointment.

Yet, what we find is that the disappointment our cookie party was meant to solve has now grown into something that dwarfs the original feeling. Not only do we have the disappointment that gave rise to the cookie party to contend with, we now have bloat, low energy, possible weight gain, shame, blame, and self-castigation and low self esteem piled on top of it.

The truth is that not only doesn’t food ever solve the problem, it adds to it significantly. Yes, in the moment, it distracts us with a nice taste in the mouth, but then what? It’s hard to stop eating pleasure food once we’ve started and after our party ends we feel worse about ourselves than we did when we were just dealing with our original disappointment.

This is the truth about food and disappointment. In fact this is the truth about using food to quell or distract ourselves from any emotion. It just wanted designed to do this for us. Whenever we look to food to give us things that it was never designed to provide, we add to our burden and cause ourselves more suffering. If we can really get this, we can break the cycle of emotional eating.

How do we get this? Practice. In the realm of healing emotional eating and the romanticization of food, practice may not make perfect but heck if it doesn’t help! When we set the intention to just keep seeing the whole truth of food, the whole picture, rather than only appreciating it for its taste appeal, we can break the cycle. In the past we’ve been in denial allowing the ego to lure us with the promise of a few seconds of delicious taste in our mouths. But once we’ve consistently remembered the to see the whole picture, we can’t be fooled by the sliver of truth that the ego shows us. Eventually, we interrupt the automatic feeding impulse and break the emotional eating habit for good.