I have a pretty good grip on my finances… even more so since I’ve been blogging about money for the past few years. I rarely have slip ups. Sure, we all make a bad decision here or there, but I don’t have any habitual problems (e.g. overspending) with money.

My issues around over indulgence are typically with food. I’m a binger (I can’t just have one cookie, I have to eat six). I’m not a daily binger, but it’s enough of a struggle that Jeanine asks me almost every night, “How was your eating today?” My friends have dubbed her the food police… I call it loving accountability.

It is interesting to me that I can exert such self-control with my finances and yet this skill doesn’t automatically transfer to all of life’s compartments. I’ve always felt like my issues with food have kept me stuck in a place that I don’t want to be for the past twenty years. I’ve tried it all – weight loss programs, hypnosis, therapy… you name it.

As an adult, my weight has fluctuated and there’s a forty pound spread between my all-time high and low. Where the scale lands is usually a good gage of my state of happiness, level of stress, external circumstances (e.g. business travel) and motivation to make healthy choices. I’ve gained five pounds since Sam arrived in December. Of course, he’s brought me a great deal of happiness, but my level of stress has increased trying to manage a new baby with work, less sleep and the daily pressure… apparently, binging provides some sense of calm in my current state. I know this is just plain wrong (in an unhealthy sense), but unfortunately, I feel like food controls me; and not the other way around.

In my ongoing struggle, I recently bought the audiobook, Getting Unstuck by Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun and here she talks about the concept of shenpa:

Shenpa thrives on the underlying insecurity of living in a world that is always changing. We experience this insecurity as a background of slight unease or restlessness. We all want some kind of relief from that unease, so we turn to what we enjoy—food, alcohol, drugs, sex, work or shopping. In moderation what we enjoy might be very delightful. We can appreciate its taste and its presence in our life. But when we empower it with the idea that it will bring us comfort, that it will remove our unease, we get hooked.

So we could also call shenpa “the urge”—the urge to smoke that cigarette, to overeat, to have another drink, to indulge our addiction whatever it is. Sometimes shenpa is so strong that we’re willing to die getting this short-term symptomatic relief. The momentum behind the urge is so strong that we never pull out of the habitual pattern of turning to poison for comfort… It gives us a puffed-up satisfaction and a feeling of control that provides short-term relief from uneasiness.

I like how she includes shopping in her list of things that people turn to for comfort. See, I’ve always felt a bit judgmental when I hear someone can’t control their spending. It’s easy for me to say, “Just don’t do it. Resist the urge. Put away the plastic.” Remember, I got the money thing down. But people who overspend are often doing it for the exact same reasons I binge or overeat. Or as Chodron explains:

In order to move away from the basic uneasiness, we find comfort in certain things, which become imbued with addictive quality and then all we’re getting is this short term symptom relief… but we never get at the root. We have to really experience the unease, the itch; the “shenpa” and then not act it out.

It all sounds so easy for a Buddhist nun. But what happens when I want to eat twenty almonds instead of five or feel compelled to take that second helping of lasagna or third slice of pizza? I suspect it’s a similar feeling when a shopaholic stands at the checkout counter or rummages through the sale racks. They feel like they don’t have control.

I’m still in the process of listening to the rest of the audiobook, but Chodron’s publisher promised that she will offer us “tools for learning to stay with our uneasiness, soften our hearts toward others, and ourselves and live a more peaceful life in the fullness of the present moment.”

I can’t wait for that moment to arrive! In the meantime, bingers and spenders, feel free to comment below on how you control the urge.

Photo credit: stock.xchng.