Food Addictions, Emotional Eating, Restrictive Eating... oh my!

There is a lot being said about food addictions these days and the research is something I find fascinating.  I can see major health implications and possibly policy changes if this theory became a well-accepted fact.  Having said that, and not to take anything away from it, I want to offer a different theory to consider.

I hear often from clients about their friend that can “eat a cookie and stop at one, or even turn it down.  They never diet or count calories, eat their fair share of treats, but also enjoy healthy simple meals.  How can they do that?”  First off, I always remind them that comparison is never productive.  Second, let’s consider that their observation of behavior is fair...how can this friend, as they say, do that?

In my professional opinion, struggles with food are often a sign of a deeper problem.  Food is meant to nourish and fuel but never meant to fill emotional and/or spiritual voids.  I would postulate that the friend they are referring to can live a full and meaningful life, give or take food.  The clients that come to see me are rarely able to do that. In fact, most of my clients are visibly shaken and emotional when any discussion of food is brought up.  Another dimension to this is many chronic dieters may have this reaction due to all the rules they are sick of keeping, which is understandable.

Now this isn’t to say that I believe restriction is necessary or that food shouldn’t be enjoyed.  It should!  Food should hold memories, be prepared with love and enjoyed with pleasure.  But it should also be forgotten the minute you step away from the table and until your tummy starts grumbling again. You have a life to live!  This is only possible when food isn’t being used as a reward, punishment, means of restriction or manipulation, a way to numb feelings, ignore important decisions, etc.  In short, the simplest of meals will be exponentially satisfying when your heart is happy.  Remember - there is a big difference between eating for pleasure and eating to numb.

The simple act of preparing and eating meals can teach us a lot about ourselves.  This is true of all my clients; Celiac to Hashimoto’s to Binge Eating Disorder to sport’s nutrition to weight management to Anorexia.  All of our feelings about food can be translated into beliefs we hold about ourselves and the world around us.  In fact, and this is definitely just my opinion, I actually believe that we are GIVEN these issues to teach us greater lessons.  Again, if food was taken away, would we still be happy?  

These food issues are being perpetuated to children (in large part unknowingly) by parents’ attitudes, thoughts and behaviors toward food.  They are being taught that food is for reward or punishment or entertainment or boredom or passing the time or numbing feelings or something to plan their life around.  Or even to take place of religion as many individuals turn their “diets” into a religion; something I find particularly disturbing.  Children should be taught (ideally by example!) that food is wonderful, lovely, satisfying and enjoyable for what it IS and not what it should take the place of (or make us look like). 

The biggest contributor to food issues has to be weight.  Food issues come at all different shapes and sizes; slender women who think they are fat to obese individuals that feel shame…and all in between.  This is where diets have gotten us.  A nation full of individuals with disordered eating and fear of food.  FOOD ISN’T TO BE FEARED.  We were created to eat.  Our bodies are meant to be fueled.  BUT, and yes that’s a big BUT, you have way too much to accomplish in your life to be wasting time and space in your head and heart with worry or preoccupation or worshiping of food.  You mean more and are destined for greater than what you did or didn’t eat for lunch.  Food can and should fuel your life’s work rather than your life’s work being about food.  Please don’t let food be what distracts you from living up to your full and divine potential.

So are you addicted or is there a spiritual or emotional void?  Or maybe we will find out it’s both.  But for now, I would encourage you to go deeper.  What is your unhealthy relationship with food meant to teach you?  I would be honored to help you find the answer.  

Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD, CLT