Friday, September 16, 2011

Stop Emotional Labeling of Food

photo courtesy of aschaeffer at stockxchng
So, food and I have issues. For one, I do not like to be seen eating, because I feel that everyone equates being fat with eating. As a teenager, this translated into skipping months eating more than a meal a day (sometimes not that much) for fear of being judged for eating. I don't have a problem eating in a group as long as everyone else is eating, because it's like I'm camouflaged.

This stems to a lot of emotional language linked to food as I grew up. My mom 'rewarded' us with 'treats' and when I was eating when she wanted me to be doing something else, she would yell at me for "stuffing/feeding my face."

As a result, I have a lot of guilt when I eat. I feel like food is something you have to 'earn' and eating is a waste of time and money. My feelings only apply to me, however. I know all of the above is utter garbage, but it's so ingrained into me from years of emotional food language that I can't separate it in regards to myself.

All of this was brought up from reading one of the latest Guinness World Records: The World's Heaviest Woman. I'm far, far from there (and doubt she's the actual record holder, but she is the one willing to step forward... figuratively), but her story made me so sad that I finally had to write all of this down.

I try very hard to avoid emotional language and connections to food with my children. Fighting is not allowed while we are eating. Guilt is not allowed while someone is eating. Behaviors are not rewarded with food and food is not taken away as punishment (the old 'sent to bed without dinner'). Food is used as what it is: a necessary energy/nutrient supply. Yes, it should taste good, too.

I think it's very important to avoid comforting and rewarding with food. Just as important is to avoid shaming with food and associating food with guilt and shame. Both anorexia and emotional eating stem from these associations. (Of course, body image issues also contribute, but so much of that is societal, and this is something parents can control)

I think a lot of this is also hard for those whose love language is Acts of Service, especially those of us who got our cup filled by those special moments with grandma or whoever gave us 'special treats.' Those are also dangerous for the future adult, as they are emotionally associated with a positive memory and thus, can be used for comfort later. Ways to avoid this? Certainly don't spoil special moments with grandma! But, also make sure that grandma/grandpa/auntie isn't the only one giving the favorite food if it's something that would be especially unhealthy to indulge in in times of emotional distress. Find a middle ground, of course, even if that means suggesting grandma stick to fruits or letting kids have cookies at home--without emotional baggage attached.

My weight problems actually have little to do with food and more to do with me not being active enough, but they were actually begun with an attack of genetics mixed with my body's withdrawal from Ritalin, which I was on for ADHD as a child and stopped cold turkey when I was 12, resulting in me doubling my weight in the next year (not knowing about the side effects of stopping so suddenly or having had an appetite in years--I was severely underweight). The next attack on my body was being on depo provera (on which, I gained 75lbs) for two years.

And, of course, a note that comforting a baby/toddler/preschooler with nursing is not even close to the same as using food.


  1. This is really well said, Heather. I can relate to growing up with food as an emotional comfort. There were very similar issues with food in my family, and all of us have dealt with resulting eating disorders. It's a hard cycle to break but we are also committed to raising our kids WITHOUT all of the emotional and mental stuff tied in with food.

  2. this is what i love about weight watchers ... we are all on this journey ... there are anorexics who use food as a weapon and there are those who use it for so many other reasons. it's like a weekly therapy group for us and we love being together b/c we all understand. if i see a skinny woman at a WW meeting i don't scoff; she is probably learning to eat ALL of her points for the day instead of starving herself.


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