Eating and Intimacy - a Hunger for Connection
Why does an upset in our love life usually end with a tub of ice cream? Frustration at home means we inhale a family size block of chocolate? Disappointing news at work results in a non-scheduled trip to the drive-thru – both the fast food place and the bottle shop?
Eating and intimacy are inextricably linked; we can’t have one without an experience of the other. Beginning from the time we were tiny babies when our only form of communication was crying to express how we were feeling.
If we were tired, upset, lonely, hot, cold, hungry, thirsty or needing a nappy change, we would have been offered food in response to our crying. We got the message in infancy that no matter how we are feeling, food will always make us feel better. It’s a lesson we don’t forget.
The pull of our emotions (energy in motion) is stronger than anything we can use our willpower for and will always bring us back to our deepest longing to get our emotional needs met. If we can’t do it with the real thing, we’ll take a substitute. Food is the substitute - it’s available, accessible and there for us whenever we want it.
The greatest human need is the need to belong; and whether we get that from family, groups or organisations, belonging feeds into our other needs for connection and intimacy.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs shows that all human behaviour is motivated by need. That is, whatever needs are currently missing in our lives – deprivation needs - we will become obsessed with until that need is met consistently, and not because we are weak-willed human beings as we are apt to tell ourselves, it’s a normal and natural human response that is hard-wired into our instincts for survival.
The grey, murky area we do battle with daily because we don’t understand it is with our emotional needs. These words are courtesy of NVC: acceptance, affection, belonging, co-operation, connection, closeness, companionship, communication, consideration, empathy, enjoyment, ease, to find joy, intimacy, honesty, inclusion, humour, hope, love, nurturing, respect, self-respect, understanding, visibility, relaxation and stimulation.
Many of us feel guilty about having these emotional needs. Feeling guilty in this area points up to a neediness not many of us are willing to accept because we view it as a bit like a dependency, a desperate one at that and in all honesty, who would want to own that?
To own our emotional needs means that we must also admit that we are human with weaknesses and vulnerabilities, that’s an idea that takes a lot of courage to be at peace with.
So we resist and the games begin: every time an emotional need is apparent in our lives, we’ll feel the emotional pain that is the big clue there is an issue here and in a split second we cut off from the feeling, running away from it to go and fill it with food, numbing out in an eating orgy so we don’t have to feel anything other than our familiar and ‘safe’ guilt for losing control again.
Through a lack of trust in ourselves, food has achieved a God-like status in our lives. Food will never judge us, reject us or abandon us, we do a perfectly good job of that ourselves. Our hungry heart is interpreted as a hungry stomach but food will never hit that true spot of satisfaction the way honestly meeting our emotional needs will.
Our relationship with food is highly complex because eating is an intimate experience, not merely a physical solution. Unlike all the other addictions, we can’t just stop eating food and wipe it out of our lives. We have to find a way to work with it by digging deeper to understand the world within of feelings and emotions and how to communicate them with ourselves first, then with others.
This process is about re-parenting ourselves and giving ourselves the full experience of care and nurturing that we didn’t receive as children. Emotional eating doesn’t mean we have a problem with food, it means we have a problem with caring for ourselves.
If you go back to your earliest memories of feeling upset or angry about something, what did you do with these feelings? Many of us went to our primary care-givers seeking reassurance and comfort but instead we were dismissed, ridiculed or told we shouldn’t be feeling that way (because our primary care-givers were inept at dealing with their own angry or upset feelings, how else could they help us in dealing with our pain?)
The result is that we then feel ashamed every time an angry or upset feeling gets triggered. We don’t know how to handle them and in our fearful panic we turn to food, shutting down the feeling with food in an instant.
As Non Violent Communication teaches us, our feelings are married to our needs. Every time we eat for emotional reasons it is an attempt at self-soothing. When we learn non-food ways to meet our emotional needs instead, we will receive a direct hit of satisfaction, nurturing, fulfillment and true nourishment that no food can ever deliver.
Thanks to brilliant people like Marshall Rosenberg who created the language of NVC, we can learn and practise these skills if we want real change.
© Copyright 2016 Karla Cameron