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What Dysregulated Eaters Are Searching For

Disregulated eaters often tell me that they engage in unwanted eating because they’re unhappy or can’t find meaning in life, so I was pleased to come upon an article in THE WEEK (2/22/13) which draws enlightening distinctions between the two.

The article, The last word, puts forth the wisdom of Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist who lived through the Holocaust, authored the classic MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING, and died in the late 1990s. Frankl saw happiness and seeking meaning in life as two extremes which were mutually exclusive. To him, happiness is momentary and fleeting, while finding meaning brings more lasting, positive feelings. He says that “happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to ‘be happy.’” He means that we can’t simply go around grabbing at happiness, but that it must be the consequence of other pursuits. That is, one becomes happy as an outgrowth of what one chooses to do.

The article also sites a recent psychological study in which scientists found that a “meaningful life and a happy life overlap in certain ways, but are ultimately very different. Happiness, the study found, is about feeling good” and “about drive reduction. If you have a need or a desire—like, say, hunger—you satisfy it, and that makes you happy. People become happy, in other words, when they get what they want.” We can think of becoming happy occurring through a process of taking.

Finding meaning or purpose, on the other hand, is often found through giving of self to others and sometimes even giving up happiness (taking for self) in order to make others happy. “Meaning is enduring. It connects the past to the present to the future.”

I’m not asking you to become a philosopher, but to examine your quest for happiness and meaning in life. Are you seeking short-term gratification or looking for something long-lasting? Have you confused the two? Are you searching by taking or by giving? Which brings you the most pleasure in the moment? What brings you more enduring pleasure? Food abuse often stems from disregulated eaters seeking purpose, not only in the moment (What should I do this afternoon?), but in the larger sense with their lives (What am I here for? What is the meaning of my life?). When I talk about purpose, I’m not speaking of the spiritual or divine, but of what you are uniquely qualified to be and do: your reason for living. Resolve these questions and you might well find that you have an easier job making peace with food.