How often do people think about what we eat and how we do it? People now live in a consumer society, where food offers are made using knowledge about the psychology of eating. Benita Griskevica, member of Latvian psychotherapists association, tells about the way we eat.
She says advertisements press all the right buttons in our sub-conscious, mixing the basic function of eating food with many associated psychological functions. If the day ahead is stressful, it is hard to avoid buying something that tempts us with aroma and taste. Sometimes unfortunate relationship with food and eating causes people to turn to psychotherapists for help.
Guarding meals with family
Eating is almost the first contact with the outside world any living being experiences after being born. Our relationships with food and other oral activities (smoking, talking, chewing, kissing, etc.) can tell a lot about our personality and behaviour. Eating without the main reason – sustaining life functions – can carry different goals: calming, entertainment, reward (sweets or chocolates), social status expression (rare and expensive foods), religious character, charity, gratitude, etc. The social function – enjoying a meal within a circle of family – provides a feeling of unity. It helps develop discipline and is especially good for raising children. Research shows that children of school age who eat with their family rarely suffer from obesity and have fewer discipline problems in comparison with children who eat their meals alone.
Sometimes eating food carries a different function. For example, enjoying a good meal can be the only time of day when a busy mother can devote at least some time for herself. This leads to a habit of staying at a table for longer just to rest. This kind of habit can create problems later on in life, including self-delusions.
Stress that is combated with food can and often does create new problems
Stress increases the feeling of anxiety in people. This often leads to attempts to reduce it, which more often than not leads to the fridge or a stash of sweets. If we look at strategies to help combat stress, consumption of food or drinks is considered by psychologists as partially productive. There are two objectives a person seeks in problematic situations: reduce stress and restore emotional balance and fix the source of stress. Food will not fix the problem, obviously. All it does is make a person feel a little less stressed out and more likely to tackle the source of stress. Real problems begin once eating (like alcohol or smoking) becomes the only exit for stress recovery. Once this happens, the person no longer sees any reason to tackle the actual sources of stress. At this stage the person believes the only way the problem can be resolved is by eating more. Once food becomes the only tool for reducing stress, other problems begin to emerge: weight problems, depression and loss of self-esteem.
Stress that takes away appetite
The opposite to the situation described above can happen under a significant amount of negative stress. No desire to eat because the body cannot afford to lose energy on food consumption and digestion. All the strength of the body are required to adapt; the body’s hormones prepares to for fight or flight. Psychological crises transpire in a similar way. Body fat that was gathering for many years can disappear in a matter of months under severe stress, anxiety and new challenges. The human organism focuses a lot on maintaining good health and constant contact with reality. Sometimes this objective is more important than eating. At the same time, however, emotional stress can easily drain a body’s energy stores.
Where to draw the line?
Eating disorder or problematic relationships between food intake and the body cause serious psychological problems. It is important to know where to draw the line. Unclear borders prevent people from considering the true motives behind their actions, needs and wishes. Consequences to that include feeling of misplaced guilt, problems with calming down, sensitivity, misplaced worries and fears, etc. A person whose sense of autonomy is undeveloped or unstable often experiences difficulties in situations that should be resolved by either considering possible solutions or by talking to a specialist.
A girl unable to control her mother’s involvement in her life and disregard of her individuality and personal space may start controlling her eating habits, reducing her appetite and gaining some enjoyment from starving. In case of anorexia and bulimia, eating becomes part of psychological disorder.
Look at your true emotions!
We start learning who we are from birth. A newborn’s face and voice tell the mother how the child feels. Some emotions can be quite frightening – anger, fear, confusion. A mother can put those emotions to rest by simply touching her child and adding certain tones in her voice – to convince the child that everything will be alright. All this helps people in their early years to start thinking, feeling and overcoming challenges. When this process is disturbed, a person can start feeling empty, emotionally drained, bored and lacking in self-esteem. Regardless of whether or not a person was lucky to have had a caring mother in childhood, separation of emotional starvation from actual starvation can prove invaluable when dealing with stress later on in life. Consulting a specialist when trying to find your true self can greatly help. Fractured or underdeveloped self-control can often lead a person to a behaviour model that employs the simplest and most accessible means of stress treatment – food and alcohol. The better we know ourselves, the more we know about our natural ability to reduce stress, the bigger the chance of overcoming stress by using different approaches. The ability to stop and think can be invaluable.
«Let’s eat to live and enjoy!» – says psychotherapist Griskevica.