When food is a constant source of comfort, the opportunity to connect with a mate is lost.
In the last decade, food has become an exciting and entertaining part of our pop culture. More than ever, food is not just basic nourishment and subsistence — it is an art form and we have begun to understand how food and culture are inextricably linked.
Watch and actually observe any chocolate commercial, Chef TV show, or see an advertisement for the hottest new restaurant and you will get it. We are experiencing food in much the same way we experience sexual pleasure; it’s exotic, erotic and decadent: a full sensory experience. As a culture, we are having a protracted love affair with food.
I am a foodie so I’m not antagonizing here. And now that I’m in my 40s and have two small kids, an excellent night out on the town is simply an amazing meal with lovely company that puts me in bed by 11pm. Sounds pathetic I know, but these days, I’m just pretty darn tired.
But with nearly 69% of adults categorized as overweight or obese, there are a large number of people who hear the phrase “love affair with food” and deep down, know that it is for them, more accurately a “love/hate affair with food.”
When it goes beyond “love”
The spectrum for determining an addiction to psychoactive substances goes from “use” on one end to “dependency” on the other. Obviously with food we all use and depend. So it is the middle section of the spectrum that includes “misuse” and “abuse” that are the key areas for conversation.
Strictly speaking, if food is purely meant for nourishment and sustenance, we are all on the spectrum. As mentioned earlier, food is one of the things that make life so rich and vibrant. For instance, chocolate lava cake is not on the food pyramid. But it is when the misuse and abuse is chronic, is creating detrimental side effects in your life, and is not easily controlled that there is a problem.
Misuse and Abuse Can Look Like:
- Eating when not hungry
- Eating for emotional comfort
- Eating to avoid feelings
- Eating too much (Compulsive Overeating)
- Eating junk food or fast foods daily
- Binge eating
- Secretive eating
- Mindless eating
Although all of these examples are unhealthy and can lead to physical consequences for you in the long term, these addictive behaviors represent a relationship with food that can at times be more important to you than the one you have with your mate, and even your children. The magnetic pull of this substance is so strong that you may be unable to pause, check yourself, and make a healthy rational choice in a moment when you are triggered. Food is your drug of choice.
The Impact On Your Relationship:
As humans, our emotional repertoire is an infinite and vast range. Many of the feelings we are capable of experiencing are unpleasant — no one enjoys feeling jealous, apathetic or worthless. But these feelings are information for you about who you are and what is important to you. They help you define yourself. Stuffing these unpleasant feelings down with food keeps you from knowing and being your complete and whole self — and, therefore of sharing that self with someone special.
When you turn to food for comfort during an unpleasant emotional experience, it is a missed opportunity to turn towards your partner for that comfort. Instead of sharing your inner experiences of pain, loss, grief, shame or anxiety — albeit, all unpleasant feelings — not only are you withholding that part of yourself from your partner, you are denying yourself the experience of being present with those feelings.
The Likeness Of An Affair
I thought to compare this kind of food behavior to infidelity because for the would-be-cheater, the experiences are similar in many ways. You may experience just one or more of the following:
- You are unhappy with yourself and your current circumstances.
- Despite efforts great or small, you’ve been unable to create the change you desire in yourself and in your relationship.
- You perceive that your partner is unable or unwilling to change to make you happy.
- You fear sharing your true feelings with your partner.
- Status quo, no matter how uncomfortable, is comfortable.
- You don’t know what else to do to fix the problems you experience.
- You feel lonely, alienated, and hopeless in your current situation.
- Although you know it is wrong, you seek your escape and pleasure out of bounds.
- You feel guilt, remorse, and self-loathing when engaging in the behavior.
- You fear being truly known, yet you crave closeness and intimacy.
As we all know, even if in hindsight, affairs do not solve the problems in a relationship, nor do they bring the happiness one hopes. In fact, affairs further complicate an often already complicated situation and the fall out is devastating for all parties involved.
For many food addicts, the intensity and closeness of true intimacy is frightening. Fear of rejection, abandonment or being engulfed by another drives the food behavior or the turning away to keep the pressure off. It can be like pushing a pressure release valve to create a safe distance.
Most food addicts will report using food from a very early age for comfort. In chaotic, traumatic, or neglectful homes, food is an accessible ally. It doesn’t judge or talk back. It keeps you company when you are lonely, entertained when you are bored, sedated when you are overwhelmed and rewarded when you feel entitled. You can drown your sorrows in the privacy of your own bedroom with a bag of potato chips, or stuff your resentment down with large swallows of cold left over pizza.
But these choices are also devastating to both the individual and the relationship. Shame causes secrecy, so there are lies about the food behavior. You may be avoiding your true thoughts and feelings and this withholding from your partner creates a wedge of misunderstanding and disconnect between you. You remain stuck in a pattern of developmental immaturity; You choose impulsive short-term gratification over long-term satisfaction.
Hope For Change
What can come out of an affair is great opportunity. If both partners are willing and courageous enough, the potential to learn, heal, and grow is transformational.
Such is true for the food addict. Focusing on diets and weight loss will leave you stuck in this destructive pattern. Instead, focus on the underlying issues of self-love, self-worth, and self-awareness. Learn to shift your worldview into one that includes you as a valuable part of it. Know that your existence is meaningful and that when shared with others, will be validated and accepted.
When you love yourself for all of who you are, you are not driven by obsessive and compulsive behavior of any sort. You are able to engage in healthy relationships where the intimacy you so desperately crave is a safe experience and where the self-esteem, and self-worth of each individual is nurtured. When you are triggered and stuck in uncomfortable feelings, turning towards your mate is the only true source of comfort you seek.