We all need to eat but what we eat and how much we eat varies enormously. Few of us only eat when we are hungry, and only what we need rather than what we want. We binge, diet, pig out, indulge, fast; we eat junk food, healthy food, only fruit, high protein, low fat, raw food, vegetarian, vegan, macrobiotic. We use food as a substitute for love, as a way to win love, to fulfill desire, as a means of punishment through deprivation, or as a reward. In every woman’s magazine there are articles on the ultimate diet, recipes for a lover’s meal, how to feed hungry teenagers, the contents of a celebrity’s refrigerator, and what foods will cure arthritis. In other words, food is an issue.
Perhaps this is not surprising. From the very beginning we are focused on food, crying when our stomachs are empty and being rewarded with warm milk, which is accompanied by either a breast or a bottle and, usually, the familiar soothing voice of mother. Our needs are extremely basic—we want milk, dry clothes, a warm place to sleep, lots of love, and a few friendly faces to look at. At this early stage there is little separation between food, mother and love—they all tend to come at the same time and they all do much the same thing, which is make us feel good.
As we grow older these needs do not change much, they just get bigger. But over time mother, food and love begin to separate: food does not always come from mother, mother does not always love, and food is used in place of love. So food remains an issue: mother cooks it and makes us feel guilty if we do not like it; we get sent to bed without food if we misbehave; or parents are absent and we are placated with food treats. Even worse is when we are in need of being held or loved and we get candy instead, simply reinforcing the belief that food and love are not only connected but also interchangeable.
For instance, Deb remembers: I was at boarding school from the age of eight. All of us would look forward each week to getting parcels sent from home: boxes of chocolate and candy. Such packages proved our parents loved us.
We use food in much the same way later in life by giving a box of chocolates as a sign of affection, such as on Valentine’s Day, or to assuage our guilt for not having visited an elderly relative sooner. Sweet food is a universal replacement for love, but where love is nurturing and makes us feel good, sweet food rots our teeth, makes us fat, and lowers our immunity.
Our eating habits and relationship to food are indicative of our relationship to ourselves and to what extent our needs for nourishment are being met, as explained in Deb’s award-winning book, Your Body Speaks Your Mind. Do you obtain nourishment through food or through love? If you feel emotionally uncared for or rejected, do you turn to food for comfort? And to what extent does your digestive system reflect this relationship?
The easiest way to become aware of your relationship to food is to keep a diary of how you are feeling as well as what and when you are eating.
- Do you only eat when you are hungry? Or do you eat when you think you are meant to, even if you are not hungry?
- Does your food depend on how you are feeling? Do you eat the same food when you are happy as when you are sad?
- Do you get cravings for certain foods at particularly emotional times or when you are around a certain person?
- Does eating make you feel emotionally satisfied and fulfilled?
- Do you deny yourself food or nourishment in the same way you deny yourself emotional nourishment?