Most people have a love/hate relationship with food. It’s how we deal with stress, depression, self-loathing and practically every emotion we have. We also use it to celebrate, ‘treat’ ourselves, or just enjoy happy times with people we love. But it also makes us feel guilty, terrible, and angry with ourselves. It’s looked at as ‘normal’ in our society to have these struggles. But why do we have them? Where did they come from? We have so many beliefs and dysfunctions around food, and a lot of lessons to learn.
Food has Become Fast and Unhealthy
Food has really changed a lot over the last century in the western part of the world. It’s become more plentiful, more decadent, and definitely a lot more fattening with sugar added to virtually everything. Most of us aren’t struggling to keep food on our plates – it’s plentiful. And even those who are may end up at McDonalds instead of buying fresh vegetables. We have also become a fast paced, no time to shop or prepare healthy meals society. Fast fast fast is the norm. And usually that means unhealthy.
But even if we get past this, and are able to prepare our own healthy meals, there are still many beliefs and dysfunctions people are trying to overcome. The biggest one I want to discuss today is the fact that food has become our replacement for love. Sound silly? Let’s talk about it – because it’s a recent revelation for me and I am starting to see my past food issues a lot more clearly.
The Heart and the Stomach
Two of the major organs in our system – the heart and the GI tract – can actually be very connected. We talk about following our heart and following our gut – same thing really. When we feel deep painful emotions, we often feel sensation in both places – heartache and stomachache.
When we are upset by a heartbreaking incident, our heart aches and feels empty, and our instinct is to fill ourselves up with our favorite foods to make ourselves ‘feel better’. We feel that it makes our heart feel full as well. We believe that we are filling ourselves up with love (in the form of food), and it temporarily fools us into not feeling the empty, achy heart.
However, it really is an evil cycle, and sometimes the feeling of comfort you get from eating that pizza or pint of ice cream will go away after you finish, and you’ll just want to eat something else for more comfort. Mind you in the long run you are damaging your heart with the crummy food, so you aren’t really doing a loving thing for your body. And really, there are SO many other healthy ways you can calm and comfort yourself, your body and your emotions.
Food = Happy = Love
Why do we believe that food is love though? In our society, and in my personal experience, when there was something to celebrate – we went out a decadent meal. When things got stressful – we were given cookies or treats. When we were heartbroken over something – we were given ice cream or something to help “cheer us up”. It doesn’t matter what our bad food choices were – it’s the fact that food has become deeply tied to all our emotions both good and bad. It’s how we deal with emotions in our society (as well as with other vices like alcohol, smoking, etc.).
Food is no longer just for nourishment or health, but it’s a reward, an anti-depressant, and for many it’s their form of self-love (though it’s clearly not self-love when used in this way). And really, for many it’s just a way of NOT dealing with your feelings. It’s the equivalent of ‘stuffing down’ your emotions and not dealing with the feelings and changes you need to make in your life.
How to Stop Reactive Eating
How do we begin to turn this around? You need to start to recognize your reactions and what you are feeling. It’s interesting, because I’ve been working to turn this around recently, and it can be a slow process at times. It’s really something that is so deeply ingrained in us, and considered normal in our society. For example, last evening I had a bit of an emotional reaction to a photo of myself. I was disappointed in how I looked, feeling that I looked heavier in the picture than I felt or thought I was. I felt frustrated by it when I saw the picture, and instead of taking a deep breath and working through the emotions, I grabbed a bowl of popcorn. Mind you, I wasn’t even hungry.
Halfway through the bowl, I realized what I was doing. I had gotten down on myself and decided to give myself some self-love via food – clearly an old belief about food showing up again. When I realized this, I put down the popcorn and decided to journal about it instead. I wrote pages and pages about it and revealed a lot about where my beliefs came from and why I was frustrated. A much more self-loving way to handle it and work through the issue.
We all want to blame everyone else sometimes too. Yes, it’s societal – how our friends handle things, our coworkers, what our parents taught us, and their parents before them – but we don’t have to keep those beliefs. We don’t have to believe what we have been taught. We can learn to ‘mother’ ourselves in a new way and form new beliefs – and new ways to deal with emotions, to celebrate events, and more.
For me, I am trying check in with myself when my impulse is to eat something ‘bad’ for me, or to emotionally eat. What is the feeling behind it? Sometimes I can hear my inner child saying, “it’s not fair that I can’t eat that” or “you don’t love me”. LOL. It’s true though. I calmly think to myself, “I’m not going to eat that BECAUSE I love you”. I calm my feelings of being denied the ‘good’ food, and find a healthy and satisfying alternative for myself. Or for that matter, realize that I’m not hungry and that I don’t actually need anything at that time.
I’ve basically just created new self-talk in my head to deal with it though. I remind myself that I’m not at the buffet table BECAUSE I love myself. I ate a healthy meal at home and I take good care of myself, and that is true self-love. It’s slowly sinking in, though I do have my moments. It’s something we can’t penalize ourselves for, but we just need to get back on the horse when we fall off and not spend too much time in guilt and self-loathing.
Treat Your Body with Love and Respect
Just remind yourself that unhealthy food is NOT love, nor is eating due to triggered emotions when you aren’t even hungry. What you need is to fill your heart, not your stomach. Find ways to comfort yourself other than food (or your normal vices). Journal about it, turn on positive music, go for a walk, do some yoga, read a good book or watch a funny show. Perhaps even set a timer for 20 minutes and spend the time thinking or writing about your feelings. See if you still want the food when that timer goes off. Whatever helps you out of those emotions in the moment, and is self-loving. And do notice your self-talk and work to change that. Be the good parent to yourself. Love is making good, healthy choices for yourself. Respecting your body as the precious vessel that it is, carrying you through this lifetime. Treat it with respect. THAT is self-love.
A book that I really enjoyed on this topic is When Food is Love: Exploring the Relationship Between Eating and Intimacy by Geneen Roth
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