It upsets me to hear the words “good” and “bad” when we talk about food. In our society we tend to give what we eat enormous power and control. I have always believed that judging our weight and our food stems from dieting and the restrictions we impose upon ourselves. When we go on a diet, we are setting ourselves up for failure. It doesn’t matter why we are on a diet. If we feel we are depriving ourselves, then eating is going to be a struggle.
Geneen Roth, an author who writes about the emotional struggle with food, was on Oprah this month. She has written a new book called Women, Food, and God. Her message is an important one: we should not use food to deal with our emotions. We often eat when we are not hungry, and we need to figure out what it is that we are hungry for. As a pioneer in the anti-dieting movement, Roth is against all diets. She suggests a psychological and even spiritual approach to eating: “Learn to love yourself, trust yourself and be open with yourself.”
Geneen begins with the premise that “You eat the way you live.” Food and the way you eat is a metaphor for the way you live your life. What do you deserve? What are your thoughts about abundance, pleasure and entitlement? I would add that it is the kinds of food and the choices around food, and not just the amounts of food, that reflect how we feel about ourselves.
Most people like to be told what to do when it comes to food; it is much harder to take responsibility for what we eat. We often don’t recognize our hunger signals, and it’s often easier to follow the rules of a diet than to make our own decisions. When we feed ourselves when we are not hungry, we are often feeding other emotional needs. Food can become a drug when life gets difficult. Eating a whole chocolate cake, even if it is made with the best quality chocolate, brown rice syrup and whole-wheat pastry flour, can anesthetize us and keep us from feeling our emotions. Is our relationship with food covering up other relationships in our lives? As Geneen describes it, “Your relationship with food is a doorway [and] examining this relationship can give insight into other struggles you have.”
About six years ago I went to one of Geneen’s workshops. Geneen’s focus was on losing weight but I was looking for something more. While dealing with the emotional issues around food, I also wanted to choose foods that were healthy for me. I wanted to eliminate processed foods and refined sugars. I was ready to discover a way of eating that would allow me to feel energetic, invigorated and healthy. Christina Pirello writes that once you begin to eat healthier foods “you will begin to crave the foods that give your body what it needs to thrive and find its balance…and yes, its ideal weight.” She is on the right track!
We all have a relationship with food. How can we not? That relationship begins at birth. Hunger is the first strong biological urge that a baby experiences. The feeding experience is hopefully bound with love as a baby bonds with his or her mother. Food, then, is associated with emotions as soon as we are born. Nourishing ourselves is so much more than eating food. Food, because it is readily available in our society, is the easy answer to dealing with our emotions but not always the correct one.
We should begin to listen to our bodies in a mindful and conscious way. Let us be kind and compassionate to ourselves. Eating should not be about deprivation, will power and starvation. Learn what it is that you want from food. Having a problem with food is just a ruse. You need to step back and look at the issues underneath the food issue. What is the hunger that you are experiencing that goes beyond food?