I’ve noticed something about myself that I’m not proud of. It is something I do when I’m alone, usually late at night. I eat junk food — preferably bite-sized food I can consume one after the other — in large quantities. I sometimes open and finish containers. I eat the snack until it is gone or until I feel relaxed enough to go to bed.
For example, the other night after returning home from my fiancé’s house, I pulled out a bag of Donkey Chips (the BEST tortilla chips out there. If you don’t have them in your area I feel sorry for you) and munched on them while I watched TV until I felt full enough to go to bed.
It’s not that I’m hungry late at night. It’s that I feel empty, like I have to satiate something inside of me.
I know snacking mindlessly is a common indulgence. Many of us eat for comfort. Like any indulgence or habit, when it becomes extreme or unhealthy is when it becomes a problem.
The thing that bothers me most about my eating (besides weight gain) is that I know I am not hungry. I am trying to fill myself up. My originally subconscious, but now conscious, goal is to get rid of the empty feeling in my chest.
I want to fill the void with something. Sometimes it’s Donkey Chips.
You’re not hungry. You’re lonely.
According to Dr. Sue Johnson in Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships, lack of secure attachment to others causes most of our voids or emptiness. If we don’t feel emotionally connected, safe and supported, we feel distressed. The lack of security sends us looking for something to fill the space.
So the space I fill with snacks is not really empty. It is lonely or disconnected.
Band-aids for emptiness
There are many other ways to subdue that gnawing sense of something missing. Here are a few common methods: Using recreational drugs, drinking alcohol, working all the time, engaging with social media, watching TV/videos, taking medication and watching porn.
It is interesting to note that the Journal of American Medical Association Psychiatry posted a study revealing that one in eight adult Americans meets the criteria of someone who abuses or is dependent on alcohol. They noted a 49% increase in alcohol disorders in the first decade of the 2000s.
It seems more of us are using alcohol to fill us up.
Here are a few other methods of filling ourselves that might surprise you: Sleeping, cultivating meaningless relationships, striving for perfection, exercising, reading and finding solitude.
Solitude does not cure
Yes, hanging out in solitude is a way to ameliorate feelings of emptiness. When we are alone, we do not have the stress of NOT connecting with someone. We purposely choose aloneness and the activities we choose to do in it, thus distracting us from the void we feel.
What do we really need?
The trouble with these ways of filling emptiness is they only put off the loneliness. They don’t cure it.
What we really need is our emotional needs met. Threats to our relationships need to be mediated. We need to feel attached to someone or a group.
My mindless eating kicks in at night when I’m not with my partner. This is when I feel most alone. I start to think about my kids and how connected or disconnected I feel with them.
Instead of filling our belonging void with temporary fixes we can take action to move toward true fulfillment.
Where to start?
First, we need to get calm enough to observe our suffering. There may be certain times of day when we don’t feel so uneasy. Those would be a good time to reflect on our habits and why we do them. We may be able to use one of our more healthy temporary fixes as an initial calming agent. For instance, I read during the day to learn and relax my mind. I am able to reflect on my habits more calmly and clearly after a bit of reading.
Secondly, we need to find new actions to eliminate the void of disconnection. Instead of putting a band-aid on our dis-ease, we need to work toward creating trustworthy, safe and responsive relationships.
What can we do to gain secure connection?
We can work on staying open to possibilities. Curiosity leads us to try new things. New activities mean new connections. An open relaxed mind is tolerant of differences between people. It sees the full perspective of support and challenge within relationships.
We can use our greatest values to lead us to those who make us feel secure. Consider the things you deem most important; education? family? religion? wealth accumulation? fitness? If you value education and learning, attending classes might be the perfect place to connect with others.
If your creative work drives you, excellent. How can you create and share your work with others? Instead of working in isolation and not sharing your ideas/creations, how could you engage others in your process?
One of the best ways to gain closeness with someone is to show vulnerability. Showing someone what goes on inside us gives them permission to share their inner world too. And if both of our insides feel seen and cared for, they won’t feel so empty.
Are you bored or lonely? What are your methods for combatting emptiness? Are they healthy?