By contributor Virginia George
Ever since I was a little kid I had a gut feeling that eating wasn’t just about nutrition. When people would complain about eating and wish for meal replacement pills I just didn’t get it. Why does emotional eating get such a bad rep? Is it really necessary to separate food from feelings?
I liked eating! I loved variety!
Fast forward a couple of decades; I tell people that cooking is my hobby but that is not quite true.
Cooking is really just in support of my true hobby, which is eating.
I was forced to examine all of my unconscious assumptions about eating when my daughter stopped eating and we had to have a feeding tube placed, first through her nose and then a more permanent tube directly in her stomach. I wrote about the emotional turmoil that resulted when her first feeding tube was placed, and since then I have been struggling.
Why is it that parenting without feeding is so challenging? Imagine never being able to offer a tasty snack, or seeing the anticipation in your child’s eyes when making a favorite meal.
I couldn’t have imagined it until it happened to me!
Clearly food is more than nutrition and there is something about eating that draws people together and builds them up emotionally.
Eating builds interpersonal bonds
Do you remember reading whatever “how to parent your baby” book fell into your hands during your first pregnancy? I do! The first one I read told me the way to be a good parent was to feed my child every three hours on the dot. The second one I read told me to feed my newborn on demand.
“This is weird”, I thought, “these books promise to teach good parenting but they only talk about feeding!”
Of course when I started nursing my first son I began to get it… Nursing is nutrition, but it is also the prime tool for building a relationship with a brand new baby!
Eating as relationship-building doesn’t stop with weaning.
In many cultures sharing a meal is a way to build trust and backstabbing someone after eating with them is seen as the ultimate betrayal.
Eating has a spiritual aspect, too.
Every religion that I have encountered has feasts. Judaism is known for its calendar of feasts, and Ramadan, the month of daily fasting and nightly feasting, is an important part of Islam. These feasts are intended to not only build community but to build each feaster’s relationship with God.
Christians who take the Eucharist believe that in eating the bread and drinking the wine they are feeding on Jesus, literally or figuratively depending on the tradition of their church. Descriptions of heaven in the Bible often use images of feasts.
I believe that eating, and enjoying eating in community, is a fundamental part of being human. This is why it’s sad when a kid can’t eat, even if they can receive adequate nutrition in other ways. This is why everyone celebrates feasts, even non-religious people (Super Bowl, anyone? ;-)).
But feasting doesn’t mean bingeing! Bingeing implies selfishness and scarcity, whereas feasting implies sharing and abundance.
So, are you an emotional eater? Yes, we all are. And in proper context, this is a good thing.
If you are feeling the post-Christmas blues, I encourage you to continue feasting all year.
It doesn’t have to be fancy, or to be occasion driven; all that is necessary is some good food, friends new or old, and open hearts that are willing to share with abundance.
If you’ve long struggled with your negative emotional attachment to food, perhaps you could resolve this year to channeling eating emotions where they should be: in enjoying good food and building relationships.