Beyond a physical drive for food or water, shelter and safety, what motivates our behavior?
According to humanist psychologist Abraham Maslow, our actions are motivated in order achieve certain needs. His hierarchy suggests that people are motivated to fulfill basic needs before moving on to other, more advanced needs.maslow hierarchy of needs
His hierarchy of needs model is often displayed as a pyramid, with the lowest or base levels of the pyramid being our most basic human needs. Our more complex needs are at the top of the pyramid.
In a nutshell, it means that our basic needs must be met first before we can move on to meet more complex needs. For instance, it’s hard to focus on self-esteem if you’re starving.
As we get our basic needs met, we move up the pyramid. Our needs become more psychological and social rather than physical. Soon, our needs for love, friendship and intimacy become important for our overall well-being and health. Later, our needs for personal self esteem and the ability to accomplish goals become important.
Maslow puts self-actualization at the very top, which is the highest “need” of a human, the need to grow and develop as a person to reach your fullest potentials.
Indeed, if you’ve found yourself bored by the pace of your everyday routine, itching for something “deeper” or “greater” for your life, then you’re experiencing your self-actualization need.
Abraham Maslow theorized the physical, security, social, and esteem needs are deficiency needs (also known as D-needs), meaning that these needs arise due to deprivation.
The highest-level of the pyramid are considered growth needs (also known as being needs or B-needs). Growth needs do not stem from a lack of something, but rather from a desire to develop as a person.
The deficiency, or basic needs are said to motivate people when they are unmet. Also, the need to fulfill such needs will become stronger the longer the duration they are denied. For example, the longer a person goes without food the more hungry they will become.
Originally, this model came out in 1943, then revised in 1954. It later expanded to include cognitive, aesthetic and transcendence needs in the 1970s.
Here’s Maslow’s model, as it stands with all needs incorporated:
1. Biological and Physiological Needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.
2. Safety Needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, etc.
3. Social Needs – Belongingness and Love, – work group, family, affection, relationships, etc.
4. Esteem Needs – self-esteem, achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, managerial responsibility, etc.
5. Cognitive Needs – knowledge, meaning, etc.
6. Aesthetic Needs – appreciation and search for beauty, balance, form, etc.
7. Self-Actualization Needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.
8. Transcendence Needs – helping others to achieve self actualization.
Now, how does this relate to eating?
Maslow’s model points out the needs that drive our behavior… and, since overeating or binge eating is often not due to physical hunger, it’s behavior that’s driven from other needs.
Binge eating is generally motivated from something usually not obvious. It’s often the result of a habit or a reaction to something emotional or situational: stress, anxiety, boredom, loneliness, guilt, shame, anger… you get the idea.
If it’s become a habitual reaction, there may not be an obvious connection to an emotion or situation. It might just be what you’ve gotten used to doing.
If you find yourself overeating regularly and feeling disgusted at yourself for being “weak” or having “no control” around food… step back for a moment to look at the 8 human needs above. Is there a need where you’re not entirely fulfilled?
Maybe you’re feeling stagnant. Or like your life is on auto-pilot. Maybe you are missing beauty and balance. Perhaps there’s a relationship that’s not what you want it to be.
For the next 8 days, focus on one of the 8 listed needs in Maslow’s hierarchy. Plan and do whatever makes you feel most fulfilled in that area on that day. Nourish yourself on that level.
Notice your eating behaviors as you make conscious efforts to fulfill your needs on multiple levels. Do you feel hungrier than ever? Do you feel inspired to try something new? Do you not feel your usual cravings?
I’m very curious to know. For myself, after tinkering with this, I realized that it’s often social, esteem or self-actualization needs that can have me feeling restless or unfulfilled. And when I’m feeling unfulfilled… it’s very easy to fill up with food without even thinking about it.