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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Healthy Food Relationships: Food & Emotion vs. Emotional Eating

Food at it's most basic level is fuel, but that one statement fails to capture all of the roles that food fills, and in my informed opinion, is designed to fill.  Food is culture and history and pleasure.  Right now you may be asking yourself, "wait a second, this is starting to sound a lot like emotional eating and that is a fate worse than death, right?"  Don't get your turnip greens in a twist just yet.  Most of us understand that there are dangers associated with emotional eating.  However, emotional eating is distinct and separate from evoking emotion with food. Let's differentiate between emotional eating and evoking emotion with food:

Emotional Eating:

With emotional eating, healthy coping skills are lacking and food is used as an emotional salve, emotional numbing agent, or even a substitute therapist. Often food is consumed in inappropriate quantities in a mindless matter - for example, after a particularly stressful and emotional day, plopping down on the couch and 30 minutes later noticing the pint of ice cream is empty and you still have to check the label to see just what flavor it was.  Food should not be used as a mindless method of drowning your sorrows or emotions.  Yes, that behavior is unhealthy and negative and ok, I'll just come right out and say it: bad!

Evoking Emotion with Food:

There’s nothing wrong with sharing a romantic dessert of heart-shaped, chocolate-dipped strawberries with a loved one.  Food that makes you smile and pay more attention to the eating experience is actually a healthful, connected way to eat.  This ties you to traditions, to memories of family and often strengthens your relationship with others as well as your own identity of self.  
Evoking emotions with food is a hallmark of good culinary culmination.  Chicken soup that is so hearty and soothing it transports you back in time to your grandma's kitchen, or eating a salad of heirloom tomatoes that have such vibrant flavor it takes you back to a warm August afternoon are just a few examples.  Food nourishes us in many ways, and nutritionally is just one.  Food also nourishes and sustains us in cultural, familial and historical ways.  There is a distinct difference between manipulating behavior with food restrictions or rewards and showing someone how much you care by preparing them a special meal.  So don't be afraid to communicate some emotion with food whether it be a love note cooked into a pancake, or passing on a favorite recipe to a friend. 

Keep in mind that our bodies are designed to absorb and utilize more vitamins and minerals from food that is appealing and appetizing to us.  So there is design connection in our physiology that links our emotional and nutritional health together. In fact, the more we accept this connection, the less we will be tempted to abuse food with unhealthy, disconnected, emotional eating.   
Couldn't say it better myself Louise!

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