It Isn't About The Food

It Isn’t About The Food

February 7, 2022

Being overweight or obese in America is a different type of “new normal” that is often overlooked.  Statistically, over one-third of Americans are overweight or obese. The sad reality is that we are bombarded with mixed media messages containing images of beautiful, slim models indulging in manufactured, junk foods.  It takes conscious effort to realize that it is highly unlikely that these models are not maintaining their fit bodies by eating a consistent diet of junk foods.

It Isn’t About The Food and Weight Loss

Anyone who has ever attempted to lose weight, eventually realizes it isn’t about the food. 

It becomes evident that there is something more at play than the food itself.  Many psychological and emotional issues can impact one’s relationship with food. 

For instance, overweight individuals often have low self-esteem and a poor sense of self. They tend to be people-pleasers and do not know how to set healthy boundaries. As a result, they often stuff their feelings down with food. Ironically, as they gain more weight, they feel increasingly rejected and isolated. 

This pattern of using food to mitigate emotions is, usually, an unconscious habit that needs to be replaced.

In a country where we are surrounded by overweight and obese people, it is not difficult to discern why media images of “perfect” models send a confusing message to our psyche. It is human nature to compare ourselves to such images. When we do so, we run the risk of activating a cascade of negative emotions and behaviors. How often have you gotten up during a television commercial to get a snack?

The Vicious Cycle

Picture yourself sitting on the couch, after dinner, watching your favorite sitcom.  The actors are physically-fit and gorgeous.  Their on-screen lives are amazing and nothing like your own complicated life.  During the commercial breaks, you are bombarded with ads for fast food, pharmaceuticals, and quick fixes.   

Suddenly, you have a craving and wander into the kitchen for a snack.  You might not realize it at the time, but your mind was just triggered.  You are not physically hungry.  Perhaps, subconsciously, the television program with its commercials has prompted you to feel bad about yourself. 

Just wanting to relax after a hard day at work, it is easier to reach for ice cream, chips, or your favorite comfort food than it is to name the feelings that are coming up.  The next morning, you may feel even worse than you did when you took the first bite of food, depending on how much you indulged.  You awake feeling physically stuffed, and you have not taken time to examine any of your own life problems. Your day has just started, but you already feel heavy, depressed, and bad about yourself.  This vicious cycle will likely repeat continuously.

What happened in the above-referenced scenario? Needless to say, it was not about the food.  However, the food did seem to exercise some sort of power over you. 

Did it call your name, beckoning you into the kitchen?  Of course not.  The food served to numb you so that you did not have to deal with your reality.  The food could have been alcohol, drugs, sex, or some other distracting addiction that gives your brain a temporary sense of euphoria.  The food represents a device used to self-soothe.  In order to break a dependence on food, emotions need to be confronted and healthier coping mechanisms need to be cultivated.  This tends to be easier said than done.

Biological, Psychological, Societal, and Environmental Factors

Experts agree that eating disorders (e.g., binge eating disorder, anorexia, bulimia) develop as a result of a complex combination of biological, psychological, societal, and environmental factors.  Genetics, diabetes, poor body image, depression, perfectionism, trauma, abuse, and bullying are all issues that can contribute to the development of an eating disorder.   

For instance, a traumatic or stressful event can spur an eating disorder by provoking overwhelming feelings. Sometimes, food intake or restriction is the only thing a person feels he can control in the midst of a chaotic situation. Again, it is less about the food itself and more about the mishandling of strong emotions.

As Americans, most of us are blessed to have an abundance of food available. Our social events, business meetings, and family gatherings all center around food.  We are raised to associate food with love, friendship, belonging, and comfort.  As children, we are often rewarded with edible treats and forced to join the “clean your plate” club. When something upsetting happens, we are usually provided with foodstuff.   When we are ill, we are taught that food is medicine.   

As adults, it can be extremely challenging to unravel our relationship with food.  However, it is well-worth the effort. 

It is important to note that some foods, such as sugar-, salt-, or caffeine-laden products, can be physically addictive. Manufacturers create products that will have you hooked. In these cases, we might say that it is really about the food. 

However, I would argue that junk foods are not really food at all and need to be in a category of their own. Gradually eliminating mass-produced foodstuff from one’s diet and replacing it with whole, unprocessed cuisine will unearth any underlying emotional ties to food that need to be addressed.

Change Your Relationship With Food

  • The first step to change your relationship with food is to begin to become aware of why you are eating. 
  • Next, you need to make healthier, whole food choices. 
  • Finally, as you become “naturally thin”, you will develop the habit of considering the consequences of your food choices before the first bite ever crosses your lips. 

As long as you stick to your healthy eating plan the majority of the time, the occasional overindulgence does not need to derail your weight loss efforts.

As you develop a new relationship with food and fitness, you may require professional help. It is unhealthy to keep your feelings bottled up inside and stuff them down with food.  A professional life coach or therapist is able to offer guidance, structure, and feedback.  He or she will be able to help you deal with the painful emotions that accompany your love-hate relationship with food.  You might, also, try journaling as another way to get in touch with your emotions.   

Learning to eat to live rather than live to eat requires that you take care of all parts of yourself, including the little child hiding inside. Address why you might have a hungry heart. Putting food in its proper place in your life paves the way for you to become your best possible self!

Read more articles on ObesityHelp by Jenn!

It Isn't About The Food
jenn

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Coach Jenn A. Nocera, MA, MFT, CLSC, CPFT is a Life & Wellness Coach, Psychotherapist, and Personal Fitness Trainer with advanced degrees in Behavioral Science, Psychology, and Marriage and Family Therapy. She works with clients to redesign their lifestyle habits. To learn more about her services visit www.FormulaForExcellence.com
Read more articles by Jenn!