Those of us who have problems with emotional eating know that food, dieting and weight obsessions are only symptoms of deeper pain, hurt and need.
We have turned to eating because we have never felt free enough or supported enough to be acceptable with admitting these needs. There are a hundred reasons for this, but the reality is that we all inherit stories or keep repeating stories of ourselves about growing up and our life experiences that are hard to face.
It is often said that connection is the antidote to addictions. While thinking about this, I realized that the primary connection is with ourselves. At some level the small overwhelmed person does not feel safe to live in the world without support, but a small person does not know how to express those needs. So we turn to quick fixes which eventually run out. Our bodies and minds get used to these fixes.
The child within around food can be better understood by watching real children relate to food. While we all have memories of our relationship with food when we were small, just knowing this isn’t especially powerful for breaking free.
I am fortunate to have grandchildren I can watch. This is what I see, depending on the age, progression and types of food. Here are a few of the pauses that can help.
- Eating unconsciously. Ask “What am I doing?”
Watching tv or movies, snacking on chips or candy without awareness. Attention is on the electronic stimulation, media messages and images. The mind which is quite amazing can act on the unconscious need to be eating which I think helps cushion anything disturbing that might be coming in from the screen. This self soothing becomes habitual.
- Eating synthetic “food”. Ask “Does this have anything my body needs?”
The chemicals and artificial stimulants in the synthetic food becomes the preferred taste. Today I tried a gummy square that was supposed to squirt a juicy flavor when I bite it just to see what my grandchildren were eating. The toxic taste was alarming. In this case, the artificial flavors were there to mask the taste of the chemicals. I notice unless a “food” is excessively sweetened or salted, they do not want to eat it.
- Cramming Think: “Slow down”
Children are very active and often do not want to stop doing what they want in order to eat. If called to eat, they will stuff their food down very quickly, not tasting it. They will take extra large bites, sometimes swallowing the food whole without any chewing, in order to get done. And also, since they are actually starving nutritionally, they can delay eating until they are excessively hungry and so cannot moderate their speed because of their hunger.
- Eating Envy Think: “My worth is real but everyone cannot respond as I would like.”
At school, what is in the lunch box becomes a test of friendship and acceptance or rejection and loneliness.
Students compare what is in each other’s lunch boxes. Trading occurs regularly, which is not a problem, except the refusal to share or sit with someone associates food with friendship even more. The small amount of time to eat also reinforces cramming. Sometimes students become ill on the playground by rushing through lunch and then running or playing in the heat without resting in between. Preschools have children lie down after eating but at children get into later grades, this no longer happens.
- Dehydration Listen “My body is thirsty for water.“
Even when thirsty, children often will not stop to drink water or prefer to drink synthetic liquids rather than the water that their bodies need to function. Stomach disturbances arise because the body is dehydrated. Kidneys and other organs are damaged from lack of water. Recognizing that we can misinterpret thirst as hunger will help.
When we notice these behaviors as we eat or drink, we can see our little child still trying to survive: mindlessly, scared, rushed, out of touch, not taking time to honor our needs. Detaching enough to notice any one of these behaviors and making a different choice can help us reconnect with our lost selves and take care of ourselves without dysfunctional food behaviors. If we do, we can also help the real children now around these issues.