Food: Emotions, Morality, Shame, Guilt, And Anger

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It started off innocently enough.

Our online fat loss clients have their own, private Facebook group for interaction and support.

Joe, a long time internet buddy and client from the UK, asked the crew:

I’m curious as to the different viewpoints in this group:

What is your relationship with food, if you don’t mind me asking?

What seemed like an innocent enough question turned into a multi-layered, therapeutic, psychology-riddled thread of epic proportions.

Answers swirled among the commentators:

Zsofi answered:

For me, one’s relationship to food is the habitual, ingrained response to food that has been built up after years or decades of conditioning.

This can manifest in knee-jerk responses that are usually tied into emotions, such as “Movie night! Better bust out the popcorn mixed with M&M’s,” or “I’m stressed at work so now I want to demolish a giant bag of pretzels.”

Greg, always the analytical thinker chimed in with:

I guess it comes down to why do you eat what food and when?

Is food a reward to indulge in?

Is it simply a way of getting energy?

Is there an aspect in your upbringing or cultural identity that centers around certain foods and eating?

And Joe, who posed the original question (the “OP” on the social media scene), gave his own response:

I derive a lot of comfort from being full.

Being hungry exposes you to the world in a much more naked way.

Food is shelter.

Part of why dieting is exciting is because it’s a decision to deliberately be doing without those crutches — at least for a while.

I’ve yet to work how to permanently subsist under or at my maintenance in this world of relentless excess.

The thread evoked responses from everyone. Some emotional, some rational, some analytical.

It raised an excellent question. What exactly is your relationship with food? How has your view of food been formed? What moments in your past have defined how you think of – and relate to – your diet?

It’s a question which is worthy of discussion, and can mean hugely different things to different people.

 

Comfort and Love, Regardless of Wealth

Easily the biggest association we have for food is from the standpoint of comfort and love.

The fact that food is readily available and inexpensive when compared to other indulgences makes it nearly everyone’s “go-to” when it comes to feeling accepted and respected.

Much has been made about the fact that obesity is often correlated inversely with wealth. That is to say (in general), the more money you have, the less of a chance there is that you will have obesity related illnesses.

While this is a correlation, and causation would be impossible to prove, there is some merit to the statement.

It’s always been assumed that the relationship evolved like this:

5

 

There may be some merit to this. It seems plausible.

At the same time, it makes a critical (and dangerous) assumption.

The assumption is that because you have money, you will be given the proper education, likely at a good public high school, and in turn, at a 4-year university.

With this education comes the knowledge to understand how to be on top of your diet nutritionally.

This relationship makes the assumption that those who aren’t healthy are unintelligent.

That’s a dangerous assumption to make.

Allow me to suggest that there is a missing factor in that feedback loop:

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Without the means to purchase superficial items (gifts, tuition, cars, clothes, bigger houses, etc.), we often turn to food as our way of feeling “extravagant” or “indulged”.

After all, if you can’t purchase your middle schooler the new iPhone 7, you can always bake them a fantastic apple pie, complete with ice cream and whipped topping. Or at least to McDonald’s for a Happy Meal and an ice cream cone.

For a brief moment, you experience “euphoria”. Euphoria is always fleeting, and is gone in but an instant. Yet, it’s a powerful feeling that hits our opiate receptors with force.

As you’re experiencing this euphoria, you will feel as if you’re immersed in wealth. Your financial woes won’t matter any longer.

In the short term, this feeling can be addicting.

But its long term effects can be disastrous.

 

The Yin and The Yang

When I was growing up, my parents were on two polar opposites of the food spectrum.

My Mother always bought into the “health halo”, deeming certain foods as “bad” and “good” based on what the latest fad was of the moment.

We went through periods where butter was 100% eliminated.

We rarely had snack foods in the house. We always chose someone else’s house to hang out at with friends because of this.

My sister and I despised grocery shopping with mom, as we never deviated from her plan.

Ice cream? I don’t think so.

Potato chips? Not on her watch.

Soft drinks? Only on the rarest of occasions.

My Father, on the other hand, turned to foods to calm the stress of his 70-hour-per-week corporate job.

Going grocery shopping with him was like hitting the store with Willy Wonka himself.

Ice cream, sugary cereal (Captain Crunch!), Doritos, Entemann’s coffee cake (nom, nom, nom), and more 2-Liters than you can imagine were piled into the grocery cart.

Since we didn’t have as much time with Dad due to his work schedule, we quickly associated eating crap with “Dad time”.

We would grab the biggest bowl we could find (usually a mixing bowl – seriously), load that bad boy up with cookies and cream ice cream (Homemade brand – the absolute best), and plop ourselves down on our circa-1970’s couch, stuffing ourselves full of sugar and fat.

Just thinking about it gives me the warm fuzzies to this day.

This is how most of us view food. Our family memories revolve around being full and satiated with culinary treats.

Those feelings continue into adulthood. At every occasion and celebration, we return to the common link we all share – “good” (and calorie laden) food.

 

Entertainment

Quick quiz for you.

Would you be able to enjoy the following activities without their food counterparts?

  • Going to the movies =====> popcorn, candy, or Sour Patch Kids
  • Going to a baseball game =====> hot dogs, nachos, or beer
  • Watching a football game =====> chicken wings, chips and dip, or beer
  • Attending a birthday party =====> cake and ice cream
  • Going on a boat ride =====> wine, liquor, or munchies

Food has become ingrained into the fabric of almost every form of entertainment we participate in.

This isn’t inherently a bad thing, as these occasions are obviously meant to be “treats” instead of “all the time” activities.

When I was young, I was lucky to go to the movies with my parents more than once every 2-3 months.

“Leisure time” has escalated in the last generation.

“Indulgences” are no longer rare – in fact, they are often expected.

It used to be you watched football on Sundays. So, having a treat wasn’t an enormous deal.

Now, we have Thursday Night Football, College Football Saturday, NFL Sunday, and Monday Night Football. There are even random Tuesday and Friday night games thrown in for good measure.

This is a function of our capitalistic society.

The powers that be realized if they split up the football games (or baseball games, or anything else) and provided us with more opportunities to view them, they would make more money.

We would watch them, and as a result, we ended up snacking more.

While eating our favorite foods has no morality, and isn’t inherently “good” or “bad”, it’s no shocker that indulging without restraint will be detrimental to your health.

 

Morality

Why do we feel so much “shame” when it comes to eating food?

From the start, we are told to “finish our meals” or else our food would go to waste.

If we do “finish our meals”, then we are deemed “good”.

Logically, this means if we don’t eat the healthy food, that means we are “bad”, even if we aren’t hungry.

If we are “good” and we eat even though we don’t want to, we get “rewarded”, often with “bad food”, which surprisingly, makes us feel “good”.

So, if we are “good” (and eat food we don’t want), we get to eat food that is “bad” (and tastes amazing), and we end up feeling “good” (from the treats) from eating food which is “bad” (still following me?).

To children, this is confusing.

So, let me get this straight, if I want to eat that bad stuff over there, I have to first eat a bunch of good stuff I don’t want. Then, I get rewarded with the bad stuff?

How does this make sense at all?

These feelings often continue into our young adult years. We long for the “bad food”, since it’s seem as “taboo”. Every kid wants to rebel against his/her parents.

I vividly remember when I was finally old enough to ride my bike to the corner store, and spend my own money.

I would take $5, and buy all the Laffy Taffy, Super Sour Tear Jerkers, Hostess Snowballs, and Clearly Canadians I could fit into the plastic bag I put on my bike handles.

While our palettes change over time (kids love the junk), the concept remains the same.

We are conditioned to desire the “bad food” from the day we are born.

Food does not make one “good” or “bad”.

Food itself is not “good” or “bad”.

Food has no morality.

It’s a source of energy and vitality.

Sometimes, it’s meant to be enjoyed and savored. (Not shoveled and inhaled.)

Sometimes, it’s meant to provide us with an abundance of energy.

But never is it designed to cause us to feel guilt, shame, or any other emotion.

 

The Dieter’s Dilemma

Consider this:  You’re on a diet.

You have a social gathering on Saturday.

It’s a birthday party for a 6-year old child.

It’s a family party, and everyone will be there. Brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, parents, grandparents, etc.

On the menu:  Pizza, pop, beer, and of course, ice cream and cake.

And you’re on a fat-loss diet. You just hired a coach to help you through your goals, and you have a plan set up for success.

What would you do?

You do have a few options:

  • Sip on diet soft drinks, and eat nothing at the party – you’ll eat on point when you get home.
  • Eat a small amount of each item served, and eat uber-healthy the rest of the day.
  • Try like hell to find the macronutrient and calorie information for the food you’re going to consume, and pick your foods wisely.
  • Say “screw it”, and take the day off, indulging in the food.

While on the surface, this seems to be a straight forward question, there are layers to uncover.

Regardless of which route you take, there’s a glaring roadblock to your success:  Other People.

In your head, the questions and thoughts are swirling……

If I don’t eat anything, people will think I’m rude.

The host spent lots of money on this, and she may think I’m being ungrateful.

How should I tackle this situation?

I always eat to my heart’s content at situations like this.

If I change what I’m doing now, what will everyone say about me?

My cousin Helen always tries to get me to eat more than I want to.

How will I handle the pressure when she grabs a piece of cake and slides it under my nose?

If I am obvious about wanting to eat less, people will know I’m not happy with myself.

That’s like admitting – to everyone – that I am overweight.

How can I live with that embarrassment?

Can I have the discipline to not eat all of those fantastic comfort foods?

Will I crack when faced with temptation?

All of these questions are tough – and they all fall into the same category.

These are expectations and assumptions that other people have made about you.

Every one of those questions carries an extra weight to it. What will “they” think about you?

===> What will Grandma say if you don’t eat her pie?

===> What will Aunt Helen say if you refuse her cake?

===> What will your sister say if you turn down the pizza she ordered?

===> What will the whole party think if they know you are dieting?

You hear it so often it becomes cliched and overused………but the correct answer here is to stop giving away your “fucks” to all of these people.

This is difficult to do at first.

I have been in these situations many times.

Back during my illustrious run as an obese “normal guy”, I was seen as the human garbage disposal.

It wasn’t uncommon for me to eat 2-3 heaping plates of the main dish, polish off 1-2 dessert plates, and reach for a beer when I was finished.

When I began to closely monitor my intake, and the pounds started melting off of me, I found it difficult to handle these situations.

Those who were close to me were used to “big eater Jason”, not “counting his macros diligently” Jason.

Conversations often went like this:

Hey, J, can I get you another plate of ribs?

No thanks.

(Two minutes later) – Hey, J, are you sure you don’t want more ribs? There are a bunch left over……

Yes, I’m sure.

(Three minutes later) – Hey, J, did you try this cheese dip? Let me grab you some.

I’m good, man, I appreciate it, though. Thanks anyways.

(One minute later) – Hey, J, you gotta try this new beer I picked up at the store, it’s fantastic.

<frustrated> – No, man, I’m good, really, I’m good. I’m full and I don’t want anything else. No big deal, man, thanks anyways.

It’s a distinct mindset shift to go from focusing on outside influences to focusing on you, and only you.

Food doesn’t equal love or acceptance.

The most difficult part is that even though you may have made this realization, there’s an excellent chance that those you are close to have not yet come to grips with this.

Frankly, some people never do.

If you continue to care deeply about how others perceive you, you will likely never reach your fullest potential.

Constructing Reality

What is your own, personal food reality?

Is food merely an energy source to you?

Is it a source of love and comfort?

Is it a form of medication, placating your stress and anxiety?

Is it fuel for your workouts, to improve your body?

Is it a friend? A foe? An enemy? A lover?

Food can simultaneously be all of these things.

Being aware of your own limitations and reflecting on your own experiences can be a rewarding experience.

As you begin to unravel the fabric behind your “food relationship”, always keep an open mind.

Stay curious.

Stay thoughtful.

Be analytical and introspective.

Dig just a little bit deeper.

If you need help, our online fat loss clients are waiting in a Facebook group with open arms, ready to take you in.

Just be careful.

Because once you open “Pandora’s Box”, your view of food may never be the same.

 

~Jason

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