Being out of touch with or disconnected from your spirit can lead to spiritual depletion.  Spiritual depletion can exacerbate binge eating, food addiction and emotional eating.  Spiritual emptiness is a sick- ness that has signs and symptoms just like any physical illness. It’s important that you recognize the signs so you can address the causes of spiritual depletion with as much compassion and care as you would any other illness.


In this episode you will learn:

  1. What are the signs and symptoms of spiritual depletion?
  2. What causes spiritual depletion and how is it related to binge eating, food addiction and emotional eating?
  3. What can you do to re-nourish your spirit and cope better with challenging stresses?


HOMEWORK: Journal about these questions to help you identify whether you are spiritually depleted.

1. If you feel you’ve lost your passion for life or your purpose, describe below the circumstances that caused you to lose your passion or purpose, what you felt about this situation, and what thoughts you had that changed your passion or purpose.
2. Next, ask yourself what it would take for you to get your passion or purpose back. How could you restore yourself to wholeness?
3. What have you learned from these past experiences that you can use now?
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This is Dr. Carolyn bringing you Episode number 109, I’ve lost my passion and purpose and food is all I have. We we’ll be talking about what’s called spiritual depletion and how important it is to know the science for that, the causes and what you can do to renourish your spirit. So stay tuned.

Hi everybody, today I’m going to be talking about what happens when we go, go, go and get burned out and lose our passion and often our motivation in life. So, topic today is I’ve lost my passion and purpose and food is all I have. So native American cultures have, I think, believe that illness is caused by spiritual problems and native American healers use herbs and rituals to restore a person to a healthy and spiritually pure state. And even in Western religion, there is the sense of the effect of spiritual depletion on overall health. For example, the Bible in Proverbs 18 verse 14 states, the human spirit can endure in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear. I love that that’s really kind of poetic. So most medical doctors, don’t just discuss this issue of having to nourish your spirit or to not let yourself become spiritually depleted. And I think I’ve talked before about this. I don’t want to get into more of the effect of spiritual depletion on, you know, our passion and feeling a sense of meaning and purpose in life. Because often that is where we, you know, even when things are bad, if you feel like you still are passionate about something and you feel like you still have a purpose in life, it can get you through a lot of rough times.

So If you’re like many of my patients who may have had a toxic childhood and these toxic childhood experiences can cause negative changes in the brain, which can impact your sense of spirituality or sense of connectedness to your passion and purpose in life. And that can also post a lot of can cost a lot of damage to your mental and physical health, for example, increasing the risk for depression and making it more difficult to get through depression. So it can also have a very, very direct impact on your eating behaviors. So if you’re like a lot of my patients with food addiction, emotional eating, and binge eating you may have a lot of body shame and you may be surprised to know that nourishing your spirit can reduce disordered eating behaviors and decreased body shame. So it’s not just something I’m talking about because it affects me, which it does. I think it affects a lot of us. But in previous sessions, I’ve talked about the importance of being present in your life and I think it’s been really hard, at least I’ll speak for myself. It’s been really difficult to be present in life when there’s so much going on. There’s you know, all of the stuff that’s going on on social media, there’s all of the political divides which have been so toxic. There’s the war in Ukraine, there’s the ongoing third year of the pandemic. And it just seems overwhelming at times, but it’s really important that throughout all of this, we take care of ourselves and don’t become spiritually depleted because then we go on autopilot and you know what autopilot is like, then you’re just eating, you know, the pint of ice cream without even realizing that you’re almost to the bottom of it.

So there are rituals and behaviors that we know can help you nourish your spirit. And one of those is mindfulness, and I’m not just talking about mindful eating, although that’s definitely a point as well. But when you think about mindfulness, the benefits of mindfulness. Are that it can help your mind be more flexible and adapt to different stressors. It can improve your ability to regulate your emotions and increase your ability to stay focused and to be able to attend to all the numerous tasks that we’re called to do these days. If you are able to stay spiritually well-nourished you may not feel as stressed and you may be able to cope better with any stress that you do have. So finding meaning in something that’s outside of ourselves, something greater than ourselves promotes happiness. And if you’re happier, you’re more likely to be healthier. And I’m not talking about that you have to believe in God, or you have to be the long-term religion. Although many people find a lot of spiritual nourishment in that, but you know, being in nature provides spiritual nourishment as well. And this, you know, can bring joy and energy back into your life, especially when you’ve been through. You know, kind of like an epic event that hasn’t happened for over a hundred years, which is a pandemic in the United States and across the world that has really affected all of us.

So being out of touch is you know, part of the problem that can deplete your spirit. Also things like toxic relationships, betrayals of trust, chronic illness, either in yourself or a loved one chronic fear, I think as well, like fear during the COVID times fears about, you know, parents or loved ones who might be struggling with COVID or you’re afraid might get COVID cause they’re vulnerable. Those can all contribute to spiritual depletion. And the funny thing is that spiritual depletion can just sneak up on you when you’re not even thinking about it. You’re just like rushing from thing to thing and you know, maybe feeling a little overwhelmed, but I can do this. I can kind of tough my way through it and before, you know, it, you find yourself being run down and experiencing spiritual depletion. So spiritual emptiness is a sickness that does have signs and symptoms, just like any physical illness. And it’s important that you recognize those signs so that you can address the causes of spiritual depletion with as much compassion and care as you would any other illness.

So today I’m going to talk about one of those causes of spiritual depletion. And that is what I mentioned earlier, loss of passion and purpose. So if you feel as if you’ve lost your passion and purpose in life, and I think, honestly, I can’t tell you how many times I have felt that. I’m sure I’m not the only one. Maybe some of you listening have felt that as well, but that’s a sign that you’re in dire need of spiritual nourishment. You may feel a deep longing for there to be more in your life, or you may feel like you’re not living up to your potential or that you need to find a bigger purpose in life. Or you may find yourself asking these existential questions like why am I here? What is life all about? All of these are symptoms of the need for spiritual nurturing.

So Viktor Frankl wrote about his experience in the concentration camps during the Holocaust in world war two in his book, which was published in 1992, called man’s search for meaning he defined the primary purpose of life as the search for meaning in whatever circumstance you find yourself in. According to Frankl, if you have purposeful work, love and courage in the face of life’s difficulties. Your life will have meaning. And I think we all want to have that, but for many of us during this pandemic, it’s been hard to feel that work has meaning, or even if, you know, intellectually work has meaning there may be exhaustion from doing the work and loneliness like I talked about last time. And, you know, for healthcare providers in particular, those on the frontline. And there’s just a sense of exhaustion and spiritual depletion can come from working too many hours, working with patients who are really, really sick and dying and not really being able to tour to recoup, recover for those who are in the medical profession, dealing with the mental aspects of COVID exhaustion can also be a factor, but it’s not just those of us in medicine, it’s teachers, lawyers, coaches, restaurant workers, airline staff, and much, much, many, many more.

You may be feeling lonely and isolated and you may be experiencing the brunt of other people’s anger and frustration. So that makes it even harder to remember that your work has purpose and meaning. You can find meaning in many aspects of life and you can also find meaning in suffering and the way in which you address suffering in your life is what gives life its meaning, according to Victor Frankel. Now having courage in the face of difficulty, it’s not easy. And if your life feels out of control and overwhelmingly stressful, or if you feel like you’re backed into a corner with nowhere to go. So you may be thinking, well, really don’t have a choice. You know, I couldn’t travel because there was a lockdown or I couldn’t do this because, you know, I couldn’t go to the beach, which is my happy place because you know, the beaches were closed or whatever you’re thinking right now. But you still have the choice on how you will react to the situation. And as you choose how you’re going to react, as you dig deeper for the courage to heal, and as you care about others and continue to perform meaningful work, you will be nourishing your spirit in terms of finding that meaning in your work Steve Jobs, spoke at Stanford at the graduating class in 2005. And he said, your work is going to fill a large part of your life is not the truth. He went on to say. And the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, don’t settle as with all matters of the heart you’ll know when you find it. Good advice. When you find yourself without meaning or purpose, you will know that you’re in a dire situation of spiritual depletion. Some of the most commonly used methods for renourishing your spirit include alternatives. There, there are pieces. Breathwork exercises for taking vitamins and supplements, meditating, going for walks in nature, taking a yoga class or a Tai Chi class, over 40% of Americans use just these kinds of methods and I have to say I’m definitely one of those 40%. I turned first to complimentary and alternative therapist before I tried to go to a medical doctor, because I believe that a lot of what we’re all experiencing is stress-related and most positions have not been taught how to help people deal with stress. And there’s no pill for it and know by the way, Valium or Xanax is not a pill for stress. Just say it.

So having some sort of spiritual practice, whether it be prayer, meditation is the most commonly used alternative therapy in our society. And newer research shows that if you do have a spiritual practice, it can have a beneficial effect on your health. In fact, most medical schools now teach that there is a strong connection between spirituality now. They weren’t teaching it when I went to med school, but I think they’re teaching it now. But you do have to have some kind of daily spiritual practice, whatever it is. It’s just, when I say spiritual practice, I don’t want you to think immediately to religion, but it could be, you know, just sitting outside in the morning, sun and enjoying a cup of coffee or tea, just something that takes your mind off of the busy, hairy, chaotic world that we’re living in.

So on next week’s episode, I’ll talk more about other ways to nourish your spirit, including some daily practices you can use to help you come back from feeling stressed out and burned out. So before we end, though, I just want to have you think about a few things. The first is how do you know if you’re spiritually depleted? So here are some of the signs you may feel melancholy, or you may feel despair, feeling tired for no reason, hopelessness, a lack of joy, inability to make decisions, chronic negativity, maybe abuse of drugs or alcohol, feeling alone and isolated, inability to accept or experienced the love or support from other people. And this is when you keep saying, when someone gives you a suggestion and you say, oh, well, that won’t work or I can’t do that because to every suggestion of support that you’re given. Also another sign is trouble with motivation. You know, you can’t get off the couch. He can’t stop binge watching your shows on Netflix. That’s my personal little dirty secret. Loss of purpose or passion, restlessness feeling like nothing matters. And nothing makes you happy anymore. So those are signs that you are spiritually depleted.

And how can you figure out what is causing the spiritual depletion? So some common causes include chronic stress, also grief or loss, chronic illness in yourself, or a loved one, a sudden change in life. Like how many sudden changes have we had over the past two and a half year a lot, trauma, either past or present being overworked and not having sufficient recovery time. So those are things that help you recognize when your spirit is depleted. And I just want to reinforce that spiritual depletion is a thing. It’s not something you should ignore, and it is something you should get it out with.

So I’m going to give you some homework that I’ll put down in the notes. And the first question is if you feel like you have less passion and purpose in life, describe the circumstances that caused you to lose that passion or purpose, what you felt and what thoughts you have. Next, ask yourself what it would take for you to get your passion or purpose back. How could you restore yourself to wellness and then journal about that? So, for example, here’s one quote, unquote, after I was fired from my job, I felt angry. But I was always also afraid because no longer be able to support my family. I thought that no one would want someone who’d been fired or someone who my age. And then I was quote unquote damaged goods. What it would take for me to get my passion and purpose back is to start believing in myself again.

The second part of this homework is to ask yourself, what have you learned from these past experiences where maybe you were spiritually depleted before that you can use now, for example, I’ve finally realized that that admitted to myself that I can’t fix the insight problem, but something from the outside, I can sell my loneliness and trust issues just by switching partners.

So that homework, as I said, will be in the show notes below. And I want to just say that hopefully you can see how important it is to be aware. Not only of your physical and mental and emotional health, but also of your spiritual health, the health of your spirit and the patterns that contribute to spiritual depletion. And it takes commitment to take care of ourselves. You know, most of the time, especially as women, we put everyone else higher up on the list. Then we put ourselves and it’s important to take time away from work or other stressors to really replenish your spirit. Don’t keep putting it off because spiritual depletion can lead to burnout and once you reach burnout, it’s not so easy to come back. Ask yourself what can you do today this week, this month to start nourishing your spirit. Stay tuned to next time when we’ll be talking about other aspects and causes of spiritual depletion.

I hope that was helpful to you. I know that generally I talk about specifics about binge-eating compulsive overeating, emotional eating, and food addiction. I think one of the common causes of all of those is spiritual depletion. It’s not something that’s talked about a lot, so I hope you recognize if you are spiritually depleted and realize that that may be affecting your eating patterns as well.

Next time for episode number one 10, I’ll be bringing you other causes of spiritual depletion. So I hope you’ll join me then. And I want to request that you give us a rating so we can get the word out about the podcast. And I look forward to speaking with you next week. Thanks for listening, Dr. Ross signing off.