Food is Much More Than Just Fuel

Food is emotional, familial, ethnic, social, cultural and religious and, by the way, it is also fuel for our bodies. Eating is one of the most intimate and profound acts we perform. It is true communion; we are actually taking in energy sources from nature and the food literally becomes part of our very cells.

Therefore, it is not surprising that we have imbued food situations with complex levels of meaning. The emotional associations with food begin before we know words. We pick up on the emotional energy of the feeding experience. Parents pass down their attitudes about food to their children, whether consciously or unconsciously.

The issue, then, is how many of these subconscious attitudes and beliefs are driving our food choices and are the consequences of these food choices causing problems? If your health is good, including an appropriate body weight and body composition, healthy cholesterol levels, blood pressure and blood sugar, then your food intake is probably in balance.

However, if you have been trying to improve your nutrition choices and you keep “failing” due to deep, unconscious feelings about food, then you may want to examine some of your food choices and eating “triggers.”

In our culture, one of the most common examples of a situation triggering eating behavior is going to the movies and eating popcorn. The association is strengthened by the wonderful aroma of popcorn, and the fact that it is a high glycemic, high fat food which tends to encourage overeating. But, unless you go to the movies (and eat tons of movie popcorn) several times a week, it is probably not the main cause of dietary imbalance.

There are lots of other social situations that tend to trigger desire to eat certain foods: kick-back nights and pizza, carnivals and cotton candy, street fairs and kettle corn. But, the real issue is usually the more personally associations because these may happen daily and many times throughout the day. If your daily food choices are driven by emotional triggers, it could cause serious nutritional problems.

The most common emotional triggers for consuming certain foods are stress, anxiety, nervousness, happiness, depression, anger, fear and boredom. We may have a specific food “fix” or it may be a taste, such as sweet, salty, crunchy, fatty or any combination of these.

One of the best defenses against emotional eating is eating well. If you are well nourished and not overly hungry or feeling deprived, you will be less susceptible to temptation. A good dietitian can help you set up a personalized, healthy eating plan. Depending on the severity of the eating issues, other ways to deal with emotional eating may be nutrition counseling, psychological counseling or group support such as Overeaters Anonymous.

Whether one chooses outside support or attempts to change their habits with self awareness, it is essential that the approach be positive and loving. At the deepest level, we associate food with love. Therefore, we can’t force ourselves to change using rigid ideas and harsh discipline. We must fill the emotional void with positive feelings.

Old, destructive eating habits can be replaced with an understanding that eating well is a sacred act of self care and love. We can make new associations by viewing our new eating habits as daily affirmations of health and wellness.

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