When Food Is Love

Posted by Andy on Sep 17, 2009 | Subscribe
in food & health, mind/body


In Food We Trust

People from around the world and all walks of life arrive at Hippocrates on their quests for better nutrition and health, and bring with them with the whole range of food- and eating-related issues.  After years and years of personal and professional contact with thousands of guests, I finally understand something: people come here not only to change what they eat, but to change their relationship with food. Not so easy, I say. It takes a good degree of soul searching and effort to make fundamental lifestyle changes, and that’s why Hippocrates provides psychological and emotional support services as a core part of the program. For one thing, we recognize that eating is not a neutral event. Nobody just ingests fuel like a robot with no feeling. No. Eating is up there as the most highly emotionally charged human activity, linked deeply with memories of family, love, comforting, good times (sometimes bad times), and comes with deeply ingrained patterns, beliefs, and habits.  In food we trust and find feelings of soothing and comfort. And abundance. I feel the love just walking through the food line at Hippocrates, dining with friends, or when I visit a local green market, or even at health food stores! I love food! Most of us do.

In the Beginning

Our first experience of food predates our mouth. We feel it umbilically, viscerally, and even at a cellular level. Our deepest sense of well-being springs directly from our actual level of nutrition, which by the way, sums up the wholesome goal of a good relationship with food: the primal reality of super well-being through super nutrition. Then we’re born and encounter food in a whole new sensual and distinctly oral way (remember Freud’s oral phase of development?), infused with closeness and caring. Our parents celebrate our eating because they want us to thrive and grow. They do their best. As babies we know hunger, and don’t like it. It gnaws at us and makes us cry. Parents feed us to make us not cry, and that’s where all the food-as-comforting patterns originate. Food is nurturing. Clearly food is love. Food makes us feel better when we feel bad.

Conditioning, Trauma,  and History

Not just childhood experiences and habits influence our relationship with food. My late mother, for instance, was a Holocaust survivor. Hiding in basements, living every day in dread of being discovered, facing food shortages–all totally altered her relationship with food. Long after the War, she simply couldn’t throw old food away, out of a learned sense of scarcity. She kept her pantry and refrigerators stuffed, and also consistently prepared way too much for every meal. For her, feeding her family was a powerful act to ensure their survival. Eating and feeding, for her, equalled being safe and being loved, and were driven by ghosts of fear and lack.

Everybody has a history with food. It doesn’t have to take a Holocaust or a Depression or personal trauma to trigger a lifelong food addiction or even bad food habits. Unlike other things people get hooked on to deal with stress, food really is a daily friend, helping us bond with others and providing pleasure when we’re alone. We all share a universal secret conclusion that food is love, and we look to it for fulfillment. We use food to comfort ourselves, to cheer ourselves up, to drown out negativity or overwhelm. We embrace and yearn for food like our lover. We live to eat, and thereby worship food as our god. We eat what our culture says to eat, and thereby feel one with our people and heritage. You might say, “what’s wrong with all that? Food is here, we’re here, why not just enjoy it and use it however we can?” Just as with any conditioning, habitual ways of thinking, behaving, and even believing, can turn into the most insidious obstacles to outcomes that are good for us, and to our very freedom as persons. I want to have my habits and beliefs and not be had by them. I choose to be the driver and not the driven. I want my choices to center on what’s best for my true welfare. If some old ways of relating to food get in the way of that, then those things must go. I don’t want to use food to cover up insecurities or feelings of unfulfillment, or even spiritual emptiness. I want to face anything and everything in life, unburdened by old habits, even the ones that seemingly or actually make me more comfortable. I need to relocate myself psychologically and emotionally, or re-center myself to have a more authentic, healthy relationship with food. For my mother, as for all of us, the hero’s journey means facing our fears, doubts, lacks, losses, and defenses, and then taking the next right step.

Hippocrates Blues about Greens

There’s nothing like whisking a person out of familiar surroundings and habits to rile things up inside. When guests first arrive at Hippocrates, they greet the food with a mixture of excitement and dread. “This is not what I’m used to,” they moan. Most people in our culture know vegetables mainly as side-dishes, so even the newly arrived guests who like salads, raise an eyebrow at the dinner spread. Many of them go through a period of deprivation, focusing on and even dreaming about all the foods they can no longer have. Like an addict going through withdrawal, they detox their way forward, bitching, fighting and fussing. They struggle and complain. Some-times out loud, sometimes quietly.  At their most vulnerable, they yearn for the good-old-days of carefree, unconscious eating. We help them move forward in their healing process with several powerful tools: 1. group support, 2. one-on-one counseling, and 3. lots of classes on right living and right eating, all of which help instill a new way of approaching and framing the whole nutri-tion and eating thing. From old school to new school.

I have two bits of advice for you when you’re in that phase of “recovery”: Hang in there, and duke it out. The fog will lift. The light will triumph. Embrace the growing pains as best you can. Feel it and heal it.  The healthy turning point is closer than you think. The body will recognize well-being when it experiences it. Do the right thing till it does. The path of superior nutrition, inner cleansing, and no more junk is the super highway to health.  It’s so fantastic to finally feel good! Hang in there and your mind will no longer be dominated by a deprivation mind-set, but rather by one of self-care, self-nurturing, and self-loving. Trust me, it will naturally emerge. Have faith in the process and in yourself. You can do it. It happens here at Hippocrates all the time.

The single key to unlock this transformation is learning to treasure your self. Once that preciousness dawns in awareness, treating the body with proper respect and awe comes naturally. Good food choices come easy. Hang in there, because it can happen for you too.

Life 101: Feed Yourself With Love

OK, one last thing: Food isn’t love, and can never substitute for love.  Love is love, a matter of the heart that can’t and shouldn’t be pinned down into anything outside the heart’s do-main.  When we know real love, we can release food to just be food, and be way more objective about it. When we know real love, we take ourselves off the hook, and become free to feed ourselves with love.  Love is love, and food is food. When we mix the two unconsciously, the fulfillment of both eludes us. When we truly know the difference, we get to have both. Enjoy the love! Enjoy your food!

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