When I recently read the book On Trails: An Explorationby Robert Moor < https://www.robertmoor.com>, I didn’t expect to find anything of relevance for mindful eating. It’s a book about trails, after all.
And yet, one of the primary reasons animals of all sorts make trails is to find food.
As biologist Emma Despland pointed out, once caterpillars have depleted an area of food, hunger makes a few of them restless enough to seek new trails. As she said, “The leaders tend to be the hungry ones.” (p. 69)
That got me thinking about how restless many of us get this time of year. With January 1 now less than two months away, you might be thinking about what you’re not satisfied with, the things making you restless for some kind of change in your life. So you might make resolutions to achieve something new.
If this describes you, I have a couple of questions. What change are you hungry for? And why does it matter to you?
Because if you don’t know this, even if you have a goal, you may take the wrong trail and not end up where you hoped.
Know your desired outcome
Unlike caterpillars and other insects, our motivations aren’t usually about finding new food sources. But we do get restless and hungry for other things.
Also unlike caterpillars, we can imagine what our life might be like once we’ve gotten what we’re looking for. But we don’t always do this.
For example, have you ever had a goal of losing weight or getting in shape? I certainly have.
If you have, too, did you ever stop to consider what that would actually mean in your life? Did you think about all the ways it might impact you, and if that was what you wanted?
Say you want to lose 40 pounds. Maybe you’ve gotten as far as imagining yourself buying new clothes. But what else? What difference would it make in your life to lose that weight? And are you certain you can’t get that change now?
I know first-hand the problems that come with not knowing your real goal. Back in 2000, I was hungry to climb Mt. Katahdin and scatter Mom’s ashes. To do that, I knew I needed to get in better shape and lose weight.
But I was so focused on that big goal that I never stopped to really consider what it would mean to the rest of my life. Or what I else wanted to get by losing weight.
Subconsciously, I realize now that part of what I wanted was not to feel ashamed of how I looked. And I assumed that I’d automatically love my body if I was thin – but it doesn’t work that way. I still found things I didn’t like, even after all that, until I deliberately chose self-acceptance.
And I never guessed that this process would impact my relationships, that I would lose a friend. Or that my new way of eating would change how I celebrate with my family, even though it seems obvious in retrospect. If you celebrate with food, and suddenly you change how you eat, that’s going to impact the celebrations.
I also hoped I’d become more self-confident, and I did – but not because of losing weight. The confidence came from challenging myself to do new things and discovering I could do them. And this manifested well before I got to my current weight.
Understand why it matters
Along with knowing what you want your life to be like, it helps to understand why it really matters to you.
For the caterpillars, it’s simple. If they don’t find a new food source, they’ll die. For us, most of the time it’s more complicated.
Say you have goals of eating better. Why is that important to you?
Well, you might say you want more energy. But a lot of people can say that. It’s not deeply personal to you. So consider, why? What would you do with that energy that you’re not doing now?
Maybe you want to be more active with your kids and grandkids. That sounds good, but it’s still not personal and deep enough. Why is it important to be active with them?
Maybe your parents didn’t have much energy to spend time playing with you, and you always wanted that. You don’t want your own kids to have that same sense of loss. By being active with them, you’ll not only give them good memories, you’ll also get to ease the regret you’ve had all these years.
Now you’re onto something.
Once you know that, you can also consider how you can start achieving that underlying goal now. You don’t have to wait until you’ve gotten to some destination. In fact, it’s better not to wait, because the actions you take to align with your underlying reason will help you get to your goal more quickly.
For instance, if you just start playing with the kids, even if it’s for a few minutes at a time, you’ll likely be more inclined to notice what impacts your energy, including your food choices. And then you’ll likely make changes to the things that sap your energy.
Of course, your situation could be very different. But getting at the underlying goal follows the same process. Keep asking why until you get to the heart of the reason.
For me, my goal was to scatter Mom’s ashes. But I’ve realized since then that my true reason for what I did is both broader and deeper than that.
I want to be the sort of person Mom would be proud of. That carries on, even 15 years after achieving my initial goal. And I know it’s the true reason because still, after all this time, thinking about it brings me to tears.
Remember to satisfy the right hunger
The reason this is all important is because if you think you’re hungry for one thing (like losing weight) when really you want something else (like self-acceptance), even if you reach your goal, you won’t necessarily be satisfied. And it would be a shame to go through all that and not even end up where you really wanted to be.
I hope this helps in thinking about goals and resolutions. If it’s given you any insights, I’d love to hear about them!
But for now, it may also help to remember that hunger isn’t a bad thing or something to be afraid of. Because if you pay attention to what it’s telling you, it can lead to what you truly want to change in your life.