As a young girl, I leanred to “use” food as a drug to supress strong emotions that were punished, heavily discouraged and suppressed in my family. The message was that it was not ok to emote, whether positive or negative. To carry strong emotions triggered an adult, the child was punished. Without the ability to express myself, I learned to turn to food for comfort. I was attempting to “stuff it all down,” with food, to swallow my feelings. This was my way of surviving; not feeling by eating.
This blog focuses on consumption, and I would like to acknowledge that I believe the denial of food through abstaining and purging has a similar theme.
Many times as an adult, I told friends and co-workers that if food were alcohol, that I would be intoxicated and unable to function. Later, I learned that alcoholism and food addictions can often alternate generations. It seems to be that the underlying issue is that with addiction, there is a lack of connection.
So if one generation is unable to teach the next how to connect (or more accurately, the elder generation teaches the younger generation how to disconnect), then the children as adults carry that pattern forward; suppressing connection in their children. It is then up to each generation to break that pattern, or risk carrying it forward.
Understanding the emotions and motivations behind behaviors can help one to break through the pattern, developing new ones (note: this does NOT involve dieting, which can make us more … obsessive). Through reading books, journaling, reflection and observations I have made, it seems that we often use food to punish ourselves, or to prevent feeling a feeling.
Food as Punishment
Out of shame or guilt for a strong emotion, or what is perceived to be a mis-action, we can overeat to discomfort or eat foods that do not feel good to us now or later. This can include eating “healthy” foods that we do not enjoy. We can also punish ourselves with abstaining from or limiting foods that we do enjoy. Consuming food (or beverages) out of guilt to avoid putting food to waste is interesting, because then it just ends up on our waist (or hips or asses). It would seem much better to let it go to waste rather than carry it around…
Doreen Virtue’s book Constant Craving offers readers insights into cravings for different foods. For instance, I have noticed that when I feel anger (that I do not want to feel), that I eat crunchy foods (because I want to break something). When not wanting to feel vulnerable, sad or needing love, I often eat fatty foods (fat protects, soothes and satiates). When feeling depressed, or low in energy, sweet foods are on my top list. Virtue’s book has much more detailed information for each food (such as bread with butter has different implications than plain bread).
Food as pacifier: self-soothing
Poor body image can also be a reason for self-soothing. This can be a biscuits cycle. The more I eat the worse I feel, so I eat more to temporarily feel better.
Having thinly guised positive feelings can also turn us to food in unhealthy ways. When making it through a tough day, we may over reward ourselves… When in actuality we are self-soothing.
Denial of food
Denial of food, whether healthy foods or abstaining altogether, reflects a denial of needs. Research has shown that small indulgences over time are better than complete denial for periods, which can result in binging later.
The overarching theme, in my experience, to food addiction and denial is a lack of self-love. For someone who loves him or herself would choose to do things that serve one out of love, not dis-serve them out of pain.
A Course in Weight Loss: 21 Spiritual Lessons for Surrendering Your Weight Forever by Marianne Williamson (a great tool for learning to love oneself)
Shadows Before Dawn: Finding the Light of Self-Love Through Your Darkest Times by Teal Swan
To readers, please feel free to share how you have used food as a way to soothe more than satisfy your body’s physical hunger.
Photo by Koratmember at freedigitalphotos.net