How much time do you spend thinking about food every day? If you are a person who is dieting or trying to lose weight, chances are you think about it a lot. Most of the weight loss options have you counting calories, figuring out what foods are good and bad for you, and trying to stay away from all those things with fat and sugar and salt. And, to make it worse, TV advertising is plagued with ads for all sorts of snacks and fast food options that draw your attention to what you eat.
We live in a world that is filled with all sorts of stresses. And one of the things that we are taught when we are babies is that things we put in our mouths are generally soothing and nurturing. So as we grow up, we get cookies when we fall down and hurt ourselves; we learn about “comfort foods” that remind us of happy moments. As a result, food moves from being the source of nourishing our bodies to an emotional support to resolve life’s little inequities.
All of these associations with food become part of our belief systems. We believe that food is soothing; we believe that eating that bowl of ice cream will help us forget being cut off in traffic- even if that memory loss is for the duration of the time we are eating it. And we create beliefs about the role that food plays in our lives and whether we see ourselves through the lens of food.
People with eating disorders have personal beliefs about food that differ from a normal thin person. A person who has been overweight all their lives has many associations with food, and dieting means giving up not only the foods they like but also giving up the emotional support that foods have provided them. Even consideration of dieting brings on anxiety because of past failures and the fear of not having the emotional support that they crave from their food intake. And people with bulimia and anorexia also have skewed beliefs about food and its impact on their bodies. Their resistance to food intake is wrapped up in a myriad of beliefs about how they see themselves, what they do and do not deserve, and the emotional connections between eating and their own self-worth.
So the next time you find yourself drooling over that ad for deep-fried something or other, take a second to take a deep breath and focus on yourself. You obviously don’t need that fatty snack, but what do you need? You may just need a hug, or some exercise, or more water in your body. Practice listening to what your body needs – it will tell you, and I can guarantee that it isn’t sold at fast food outlets.