Feed your heart

Mother Heart detail
Mother Heart detail

I have a complex relationship with food, similar to the complex relationship I have with others. Both of these stem from my upbringing, my earliest interactions with my mother and – I am certain – my female hormones. Throughout my life I have equated food with mood, using food to replace just about everything that’s missing in my life.

In his post It’s Time for a New Relationship With Food Leo Babauta of Zen Habits writes: “technically, food is just fuel for living. That’s all — nothing else.” To be fair, that’s not all he says, and you should read it to see why I picked this one statement out of many others. I reacted to the implication that food – eating! – is a problem.

Many commentors were happy to accept the idea of thinking less about food than we so-called “food-obsessed” Americans do. Or eating better food so we feel full more easily. But I had a strong reaction to the idea that we should (or can) resist the temptation of food except as a means for cell function and survival. This takes all the heart out of food. After all, where does our first food come from?

After my initial view of myself as not only the center of the universe but THE universe, my mother is slowly revealed to me, in infancy, to be – ta da – a separate person who willingly (selflessly!) gives me the sustenance I so desperately need. What a saintly creature this is, arriving again and again with what I crave. Of course this gives rise to all sorts of problems later on if food doesn’t arrive exactly when summoned (or at all) and/or is given on some arbitrary and efficient schedule rather than WHEN I’M HUNGRY! Not to mention it may be “portioned out” in amounts reported to be good for my health, rather than letting me find my own satiation point. Anyone need a good therapist? I can recommend one.

So when Leo says “Food is the answer to everything, apparently,” he is being sort of sarcastic, but he is also correct. I disagree with Leo’s basic premise. Advertising doesn’t make us overeat. Serving danish at meetings doesn’t make us overeat. Popcorn at movies doesn’t make us overeat. Television doesn’t make us overeat. What makes us overeat is hunger. Mother hunger, friend hunger, touch hunger, connection hunger, and poverty of spirit, of connection and of meaning. What makes us overeat in our culture is the lack of nourishment, not its excess. And I’m not talking about eating healthier foods. I’m talking about nourishment like hugging, loving, accepting, acceptance – belonging.

Alienation, that’s what makes us eat. We miss being two, not one. How many times have you completely forgotten about food while first in love? Or while in the flow of working on your art? You were getting a different kind of food, a different kind of fullness, and it doesn’t happen near enough or long enough to keep us from going back to feeding our stomach – searching for serotonin, or tranquility, or excitement.

Feed your heart. Let it find its own satiation point and food will take its rightful place at the beginning of the search for fullness, not its only source. But also love food. Don’t let anyone talk you into disparaging or avoiding food. Eat is not a four letter word, but our culture’s obsession with denying our deepest wishes would make it seem so. Our hearts are being fed someone else’s idea of what we should eat, on someone else’s schedule. And we wonder why we’re hungry.

Here is my comment on the post:

I disagree completely. Food is the first mode of attachment, to mother, and it remains so throughout our lives. Attachment allows us to live and food feels like that first life-saving attachment. I understand that I am admitting that we often regress when we eat. Food is the reminder of nourishing love we received or were denied in those first crucial months. Some will overeat to feel “full of mom” and others will overeat because they were never full of her. Some won’t eat as a denial of dependency, to feel in control of this intense desire to consume.

We cannot, even as adults, deny this most basic dynamic. Food=mother. How we related to our mothers, the fact that we have this earliest experience of food as part of self, then as love from another, is intimately tied to our relation to food the rest of our lives. Oral needs can be diverted into other activities but the need for receiving nourishment never subsides. Think about that next time you shove that giant mound of pasta or that double cheeseburger into your mouth and feel the ecstasy. If food is not a preoccupation for you in your daily life, you should consider yourself fortunate. You are in the minority.

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4 thoughts on “Feed your heart

  1. i agree. after i gave birth to my daughter all i wanted to eat was chocolate and roast beef. i thought i should be eating this and that and trying to lose weight from the pregnancy. but then i succumbed to my cravings. and not only was i happier but i also realised that i was craving something that i needed! not just nourishment but caffiene and sugar to get me through those sleepless nights. and protein and iron for the blood loss that i encountered during labor.

    i am still on my chocolate and roast beef diet going on 6 months now. and when my needs change then i’m sure my diet will change. and screw all the dietitians out there. what happened to the enjoyment of food. the complaining of our husbands while we stuff ourselves with chips and salsa. lets stop being competitive with each other and just eat, bitch, have fun, and above all lets get together and spend some quality time with one another….

  2. @lexa I have tried eating right, eating only health food, eating whatever I want, LOL. And after all these years I find the thing that works for me is to not get too obsessive about the whole thing. Just eat. Your body will tell you what you need. And if what I need for awhile is chocolate chip cookies, then so be it. I’ll get sick of them eventually!

    Worrying about food constantly has got to be hard on your brain… 🙂

  3. Well said. Are you familiar with Marc David’s work. He has two books you might want to check out — Nourishing Wisdom and The Slow Down Diet. I took his 20 week tele-class on The Psychology of Eating and it changed my life. He helped me see that are issues with food can be important teachers on our life’s journey if we are brave enough to slow down and explore them.

  4. @Martha (FYI your weblink didn’t work on your comment here)

    Thanks for the books to take a look at. My favorite book about eating disorders and mood is Feeding the Hungry Heart by Geneen Roth. She has a lot of other books too, including…

    “When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair: 50 Ways to Feel Thin, Gorgeous, and Happy (When You Feel Anything But)”

    but the Hungry Heart stuck with me all these years. She’s the one who said if you want to eat only choc chip cookies, go ahead, eventually you’ll stop.

    I think the psychology of eating is one of the biggest issues in life to understand if not the biggest.

    It’s odd how many Zen Habits comments there are saying, yeah I want to fast and stop eating and eat less, etc. Eating is a BIG DEAL. And people seem to want to make it a little deal.

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