Stuffing snacks in our mouth is no better than alcohol when used as an escape.
Like alcoholism, snacking leads to a vicious cycle wherein we divert our attention and never address our real issues.
Over 70 million adults in the United States are obese (35 million men and 35 million women). Ninety-nine million are overweight (45 million women and 54 million men), according to National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2016 statistics. Compare this with Europe, which is about 20 percent less, at 59 percent. India, by sharp contrast, has only 5 percent obesity.
Although the physical ill-health of snacking is well-known, less obvious is the effect of snacking on our mental health.
The mere inclination to snack is a sign that the mind is not focused, or it is focused, but in an unproductive or unwholesome way. The former is an idle mind that seeks to absorb itself in something and is tempted by snack food. If we don’t resist, we are lulled into complacency.
Unfortunately, what goes for idleness also goes for far less benign mental states—depression, anxiety, lack of self-esteem, and more disturbing conditions, such as manic-depression, schizophrenia, extreme obesity, delusion, and so forth. Reaching for a snack is usually motivated by craving, but when more serious mental conditions are present, snacking is motivated by a desire to escape.
Indulging in cravings is never good, and that is why the Buddha and other spiritual pioneers exhaustively cautioned against following cravings. When we crave, we generally crave for something different than what we need.
When we link obesity with underlying mental conditions, we see how mentally troubled we are. Those who eat to live rather than be distracted, such as the population of India, are thin and trim of afflictive emotions, mental cargo, and unnecessary weight.
It is not a big leap to equate snacking with an “ism” like alcoholism, for the motivation is the same: distraction. While avoiding tempting snacks will not solve our problems, at least it won’t make addressing them more difficult. We have to start somewhere.
Craving is the harbinger of unproductive snacking. Restraint allows us to address the underlying causes, be they harmless or outright dangerous, from benign boredom to schizophrenia.
The discipline necessary to eat only at mealtime will go a long way toward building self-esteem to face our issues. Moreover, being physically healthier means better body chemistry. The effect of blood chemistry on mental states is uncontested. Depression, anxiety, and other disturbing emotions are linked to blood chemistry.
If before stuffing snacks into our mouth we paused long enough to ask ourselves, “Why am I doing this?” we would empower ourselves. In this sense, the urge to snack becomes an inspiration to reflect and meditate and eventually face our troubled mind.
The benefits of limited snacking are not just for people with weight or emotional problems. Eating only at mealtime is homogenous with meditation. Withdrawing from distracting thoughts and focusing on a topic of meditation is similar to resisting the impulse to snack.
Of the reasons that the Buddha advised his close followers to restrict eating to once a day was to develop the ability to focus. Whether we eat one meal or three, restricting food intake to mealtime builds mental strength.
Happiness is elusive, and stabilizing it involves a combined approach that includes enjoying our means of livelihood, good companionship, financial security, absence of peer pressure, good sleep, agreeable environment, and so forth. But, because food, like sex, is so fundamental to being human, finding balance here carries more weight.
Resisting cravings takes time, patience, and a strong will, all of which we will develop as we go. Rushing into any diet abruptly generally leads to failure, but proceeding little by little in steady increments assures we will endure and accomplish our aims.
“The pause that refreshes” is that moment we resist.