A good deal of my work over the years has focused on eating disorders and what I’ve come to call “disordered eating.” I’ve seen food become a “never enough” activity through an astonishing prism of personal angles. I’ve seen those of concentration-camp thinness who are so afraid of being fat that they feel they can never become thin enough. I’ve seen morbidly obese people so emotionally tied to the food they consume that they eat and eat but never feel full. I’ve seen people who use food as a pleasure-punishment cycle in an all-encompassing ritual of binge, purge, and binge again until their teeth rot and their stomachs develop a nasty habit of involuntary vomiting.
Granted, these are extremes, but I’ve also seen people who felt that virtually no food or drink was “safe” and that therefore any consumption was a fearful event. They might allow themselves to eat from a very small list of foods, but it is never done easily or without fear and remorse.
I have regularly seen people who took food out of the box of nutrition and sprinkled it on all sort of other things — loneliness, boredom, security, anxiety, and fear. I’ve seen people with as intricate and involved a relationship with food as the most ardent of lovers.
What all of these people have in common is a specific perception of food and eating — one that is not based in reality. For them, food is not consumed to fill a nutritional need; rather, it is used to fill an emotional desire.
The human body needs a quantifiable amount of nutrients and energy to function at an optimum level. Vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fats, carbohydrates, proteins, and fiber all play their part. If food is appropriately consumed from a nutritional standpoint, it is possible to eat and be filled.
When the hunger being fed is physical hunger, it is possible to have enough. Not so with emotional hunger, which is notoriously difficult to identify, let alone fill.
Unlike the stomach that signals fullness, emotional hunger can be a ravenous taskmaster. Because food is used as a surroagate to the real need, its effects are transitory at best. It is important to remember there are two ways that food can be used to fulfill emotinal desires — food that is eaten and food that is restricted. Some people receive an emotional hit when food is eaten, and other people receive that same sense of satisfaction when food is denied.
All that being said, food is relatively convenient; it is there when other things are not and therefore especially susceptible to the Gotta Have It! impulse. It reminds me of the words to that old song by Stephen Stills: “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.”
For too many people with unmet needs, they are resigned to food as they one they’re with.
The preoccupation with food — what to eat, when to eat, where to eat, with whom to eat, how much to eat, how much to restrict, how much to indulge, how much to regret — sends up such a cloud of distraction that other pressing needs are simply pushed out of the way. Those pressing needs are often ones people do not wish to acknowledge because of the pain they produce. Distraction becomes a necessity, and food as a vehicle for that distraciotn is taken to excess.
In this way, food becomes an excessity.
SOURCE: Chapter 2, “Examine Your Excess,” in Gotta Have It! by Gregory L. Jantz, PhD., founder of The Center for Counseling and Health Resources Inc.