Yet how then is food often confused for love? I've heard it from clients and friends, and I've experienced it myself: When we're down, when we're lonely, when we're bored, when we're stressed, when we're angry...many of us turn to food in an attempt to feel better. And yes, it's true. Food can be delicious, pleasurable, exciting, sensual, and fun (actually, that does sound a lot like traits of an ideal partner, doesn't it?), but still...it really isn't love.
I am not talking about the times we eat because we want to enjoy a good meal, a special treat, or to celebrate with family or friends. I am talking about turning to food in an act of desperation. Turning to food when what we really need is a hug, some rest, a great yoga class, a massage, some alone time, a long walk, a good book, some care or attention - either from our self or someone else.
From the time we are born, food and love are intimately linked. Love is food - literally. As babies, we feel the warm, cozy sensations of drinking milk and being held, but we can't necessarily distinguish between the two. We just know it feels good. As we get older, food may continue to be associated with love ("oh honey, don't cry...here's a cookie" or "I'm so proud of you...let's go out for ice cream"). This is often a parent's instinct, yet when used too frequently, we do not learn to distinguish anger, pain, exhaustion, frustration, sadness or even excitement from physical hunger. We become disconnected from our REAL feelings and, rather than search for a real solution, we learn to use food to feed our emotions. For some, who may have grown up having to fend for themselves for much of the time, food may have become a reliable companion and friend. The lines between food and love were understandably blurred.
There is also the fact that many of us, brought up in a culture where women are taught to be "nice" by tuning into others' needs, got good at tuning out ourselves. When we ignore our emotional hunger and feel undernourished, our desire for food gets stronger. If we listen, we may get a clue as to what we need - a clue that some other area of our life needs attention. A small example of that ws my love affair with Ben and Jerry's the other night after a stressful day. If I had put the ice cream down long enough to actually even taste it, I might have become aware that I really needed some deep relaxation...a bath or a mindless magazine while lounging on the couch might have done the job. I chose a quick fix instead, but unfortunately, like most love-replacements, it didn't work for long.
The thing about food is, it does work - temporarily. The food that many of us confuse with love (sweets and crunchy salty snack food) affects our biochemistry and gives us a quick lift or calming feeling in the short-run (more about the biochemistry in another issue). Unfortunately, this feeling doesn't last and we still end up stuck with the feelings that needed real tending to.
IMake sure to shower yourself with some extra attention and love this Valentine's Day...and all month long.