Most people I know have issues with food. Very few people, myself included, are able to completely view food as fuel. Why is that? It seems to start in infancy, maybe even earlier. When we cry as babies, we are comforted with food. Because we can’t speak, the adults in our lives assume either we need a new diaper or a snack. Food becomes very soothing. As we get older, if we cry, we are given a cookie or candy. As adults when we are going through a hard time, we get a casserole. Food is comforting. In addition, it is exciting. Everyone is dying to try a new restaurant or recipe. We sometimes dream about delicious eating experiences. The thought of food can make us salivate and spontaneously recall our prior experiences. We can have nostalgic memories of comforting food experiences like Grandma’s cookies. I think the relationship we have with food breaks down into three categories:
Addict- When we have this relationship, we think about food CONSTANTLY. We have just finished breakfast and think about lunch and dinner. We cannot seem to get enough. Often what happens in this relationship is that we are so out of touch with our emotions that any level of disturbance or distress starts getting met with food. We engage in compulsive overeating and can’t get enough food because there is no end to the unpleasant emotions.
Avoidant- This relationship leads us to avoid experiences with food because the emotional consequences of eating the food we love is so unpleasant. The constant barrage of negative self-talk and calling yourself names makes you want to give up eating all together which leads you to try one crash diet after another hoping it will change your feelings about food. It just makes you end up hating the healthy foods you are “forced” to eat and obsess about the foods that are off limits.
Addict/Avoidant- Many people struggle with this relationship. Due to the shame associated with compulsive eating, you then move to avoid food. Avoiding food and depriving yourself just makes you obsess about eating more and likely leads to binge eating.
Neutral- This is a rare breed of relationship and one that we all strive to achieve. In this relationship, you are able to view food as fuel because there is no guilt associated with eating and you only eat when you are hungry instead of using it for emotional comfort. Most of us have food baggage which makes this relationship seem foreign, but we are able to make changes to achieve this type of relationship.
While it seems like a fantasy, you can change your relationship with food. By gaining tools to cope with your emotions without food, you can free yourself from emotional eating.