Page views 208

Self-Knowledge • Behaviours

Why We Eat Too Much

It’s clear that a great many of us eat too much. And in response, a huge industry has grown up which advises us to consume more quinoa, pomegranate and fennel salad and, as often as we can, kale and apple soup.

But this is entirely to misunderstand why we start eating excessive amounts. It has nothing to do food, and therefore trying to change our diet isn’t the most logical place to focus our efforts. We eat too much because what we’re really hungry for isn’t available.

Of course, it looks as if everything we could want should be to hand. Our supermarkets and delis are iconic temples of consumer society. Our restaurants spare no effort trying to satisfy us.


Could sir or madam be tempted by lobster thermidor? Or a selection of regional vegetables drizzled with olive oil sourced from a tiny farm in the Pyrenees?

But if we could really choose anything, wouldn’t we want a slightly different menu? For example:

– Unstressed conversation of father, marinaded in mutual forgiveness.

– Tenderised maternal love* (* suitable for those on a criticism-free diet).

Toulmouche, Auguste, Maternal Love, 33.2x32.8cm, 1860

– Ripe friendship served on wry banter accompanied by a side serving of affectionate teasing.

– Fresh conversation, liberally sprinkled with poignant anecdotes (for two).

– Sexual appreciation with all the trimmings (our sommelier recommends, as the ideal accompaniment, a glass of full-bodied Chateau Fantaisie).

And for dessert, perhaps:

– A generous scoop of honeyed insight.


Or maybe (a house speciality):

– Melting moments of compassion, laced with tears of understanding.

In other words, it isn’t food we crave.

The menus of our actual restaurants (however chic) prompt us only in very limited and restricted directions. They understand – and respond – to only a desperately narrow segment of our true appetites.

Collectively, we speak so much of food, and so little of what we properly need. It isn’t pizza, Spanish cheese or Argentinian steak. We need friendship where we can confess our darkest anxieties and be heard and forgiven; we need help in calming down at key moments, reassured that we can withstand the very worst that may be coming our way. We are lonely and angry within our own families and are crying out for redemption and cathartic honesty. We need someone who can help us discover our real talents in the workplace and offer us a guide to realise our true potential.


We know that, when reaching for a tube of potato chips or biting into yet another burrito that the problem doesn’t lie there. We just don’t know where else to turn and there is, at least, a short-term satisfaction to be found.

We eat too much because we hate ourselves too intensely to have the necessary respect for our own bodies. Our tragedy isn’t our unconstrained appetite. But rather, the difficulty we have in getting access to the emotional and psychological things that would nourish our broken souls.  

The diet industry has latched onto the symptoms of our unhappiness, not their causes – and therefore the solutions it offers can only ever be temporary and fragile. It can’t make us lastingly thin because it is not engaging with what made us manically fat.

A couple of hundred years ago it was almost impossible for most people to find anything very pleasant to eat. Since then, a vast quantity of human ingenuity has been devoted to enticing the palate. We have succeeded beyond our wildest expectations. But in so many other areas, we have hardly begun to supply ourselves reliably with what we long to consume, which are, to put it plainly: understanding, tenderness, forgiveness, reconciliation and closeness. We eat too much not because we are (as we brutally accuse ourselves) greedy, but because we live in a world where the shelves are still bare of the real ingredients we crave.

Full Article Index


Get all of The School of Life in your pocket on the web and in the app with your The School of Life Subscription