Activating Faith to Fuel Healing from Food Addiction
Activating Faith to Fuel Healing from Food Addiction
Categories: RECENT RESEARCH
Rhona Epstein, Psy.D.
Debbie, 29, came to me for help overcoming food addiction. Eager to do the work of recovery, she called ahead of our appointment to let me know she was already looking into food plans and ready to sort out why she reached for snacks and sweets rather than into her spirit to get through every hard day, each dark night.
Don’t you love a client like Debbie? Ready. Aware there’s treatment needed. Prepared to do the work, accept help beyond a prescription for painkillers that simply dull the distress.
“This is great,” I began. We’d already discussed how help for her meant more than a new diet—that we’d need to work issues of her emotions and from her past, so I prepared her, “Now we’ll get to work on ways to strengthen your spirit, find God’s help, and learn how faith in his promises will deliver you from living trapped. You’ll find peace, a better way of living.”
The call went silent. Crickets. Not a breath or peep.
“Spirit?” Deb finally croaked, like I’d just pulled the reins on her gallop toward recovery. “I understand there are emotions I’ll need to deal with, that I need to learn what triggers my and emotions . . . but my spirit? What’s faith got to do with recovery?”
Oh, Debbie, I sighed inside. For Debbie and every other client like her, you know that sigh. Don’t you long to help clients fully grasp what faith’s got to do with healing? Don’t you want them to know: Everything.
Give them the Benefits in the Face of Doubts
You can. There’s evidence you can share—and it’s compelling.1 It’s called a biology of belief, which is the way faith affects the physical, emotional, and mental self. The bottom line is this: God is great. He’s good—and good for you in every way, saving the soul and helping the body, mind, and emotions. One groundbreaking study at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Spirituality and the Mind highlights just a few of the many benefits of the biology of belief in fostering healing:2
- Spiritual practice can reduce stress, heal an overweight body and overburdened mind.
- Contemplation of a loving God can curtail anxiety and depression.
- Time spent talking to, thinking upon, and worshipping God increases feelings of security, compassion, and love.
- Prayer enlivens and activates the senses by involving sensory organs for taste, sight, smell, sound—to engage more fully in what’s going on around and inside a person, both thoughts and feelings.
- Prayer deepens the capacity for gratitude, which, like humor, can boost the immune system and resiliency.
- Meditation improves brain function, helping positively change values and perception of reality.
- People who attend church services have a lower risk of dying in any given year than those who don’t.
- Church and faith community provides support to help in times of sickness, exhaustion, and discouragement; and uplift with celebration of good moments and great days.
- Belief in a loving God helps one handle a diagnosis of illness and fare better afterward than no belief or a belief that God is punitive.
- Practicing faith creates peace for facing the past
The evidence will help your clients see that the biology of belief, this exercising and practicing of faith, will jumpstart and fuel their healing. Anyone seeking recovery from addiction, whether it’s to food or substance or a relationship, must make all kinds of new decisions and choices. Faith will enable their mental clarity to do that in all situations and get through tough times. Faith will give them what neither the body nor mind could give on their own: a super strength and sustenance of the soul that is the true ingredient to overcoming. Your clients will see that they can finally make peace with their past—and for their present.
Now Talk about the Tools
Whether clients come to you as churchgoers with some Christian experience or not, you can assure them that exercising and practicing faith needn’t be mystical or scary. It’s actually so simple, so human. It’s checking out a new relationship. Tell them: “You’re going to meet and get to know God, whether you think you already know Him or not. Ask Him questions, share and spend time with Him. Be intentional about it.”
These practical ways are some of the best I’ve seen (and experienced in my own life) to do that. They will trigger the faith practices that become habits—and the habits become part of the healing lifestyle, that biology of belief:
- Start the day with requests to God. Upon waking, ask Him to go with you hour by hour, to direct your thinking away from self-pity or anything self-serving and toward what’s right and good. Ask Him to guide every choice.
- Meditate upon Him. Sit somewhere quiet to let go of racing thoughts and focus. Release other desires. Close your eyes to shut out distraction to help you look within. Think upon a word, or certain words, for instance a phrase from the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:9-13: “Our father/who art in Heaven/hallowed be Thy name . . . .”) or the names of God ( Counselor. Redeemer. Provider.). Repeat these words or phrases, in your mind or aloud, for several minutes. Say them slowly and deliberately, breathing deeply and staying focused, letting go of self-analysis and instead focusing on the words of God.
- Deepen your relationship with God. Make dates to get to know daily who He is, His character. Read devotionals and books of daily meditation that help you know Him more intimately. The best daily readers in 12-Step programs are classics: My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, Streams in the Desert by L.B.E. Cowman (and the updated edition edited by James Reimann), The Battlefield of the Mind Devotional and The Confident Woman Devotional by Joyce Meyers. An ancient book helped me most: Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ by a seventeenth century woman, Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte-Guyon, commonly known asMadame Guyon because it helped me fill up on God rather than the foodstuffs I consumed addictively. Also her book A Short and Easy Method of Prayer, available in many forms, even free online, shows how to practice in very practical way how to have a conversation with God anywhere, anytime and be in His presence—and that leads to another way of plugging into the biology of belief.
- Keep a conversation going with God through the day. Be deliberate. Pray at appointed times: before meals, getting ready for work, as you go to bed. Use the structure of the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 as a guide: Address God and acknowledge His goodness and holiness. Ask for His will for this day. Tell Him what you need. Thank Him for help you believe He will deliver. Ask for forgiveness of things done and left undone. Ask Him to help you forgive others, and for guidance and wisdom to get through the next twenty-four hours. Thank Him for His goodness
- Feed on the Bible. Read Scripture like you eat a meal, not in snippets or as a snack but as a full course, a story, a letter from God to you. That means making time in your day, as you would for a meal, to read a section of the Bible, not just a verse. Choose one chapter or several. Ask: Who is this about, for, from? What happens or is said? What does this mean for me? How can I use this in my life today, this week? Kay Arthur’s short book How to Read the Bible (Harvest House), offers five helpful practices toward this in less than 180 pages.
The great thing, as my client Deb saw from all this, is that the biology of belief is a secret weapon to recovery. “When I called you I knew my physical and emotional limitations were huge,” she confessed. “Still I hoped you could give me some sort of diet pill or prescription or something to make everything better. But my body has failed and my brain has faltered, and I see that I can’t trust my emotions. I can’t do this alone.”
That’s right, I encourage. “And you don’t have to because there’s a biology of belief and faith’s got everything to do with it.”
- Cell biologist Bruce Lipton, after pioneering studies at the University of Wisconsin and Stanford University, coined the phrase “the biology of belief” in his book by the same time that examines how faith brings about health: Bruce H. Lipton, The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter, and Miracles ed. (Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, 2008).
- Jeffrey Kluger, “The Biology of Belief,” Time, February 12, 2009, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0.9171,1879179,00.html. Also, Gery Wenk, “Religiosity and Neuroscience: Does the Absence of Serotonin Receptor Lead to Spirituality?” at Your Brain on Food (blog) in Psychology Today, August 2, 2010, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-brain-food/201008/religiosity-and-neuroscience.
Rhona Epstein, Psy.D., C.A.C., is the author of Food Triggers: End Your Cravings, Eat Well and Live Better; and a licensed psychologist, certified addictions counselor, and marriage and family therapist in the Philadelphia area. For more than twenty-five years she’s lead seminars, conferences, and therapeutic workshops, to help people overcome food addiction and its underlying issues. She received her doctorate in clinical psychology from Chestnut Hill College, and master’s degree in counseling psychology from Temple University. She’s passionate, from personal experience and recovery from food addiction, to address the needs of the whole person (mind, body, and spirit).