The Meaning of Food & Eating In Our Lives
It is rare that a social event in my life happens without food and or drink. My family gatherings always revolve around sharing a meal or a catch-up over a coffee.
When I catch up with friends we tend to meet for coffee, breakfast lunch or dinner. When we have dinner parties they are festive occasions. Sometimes we have a theme that explores a particular cuisine and everyone brings a plate and we get to taste recipes from all around the world. It is joyous, it is social, it is festive and it is delicious. We talk, we laugh and we eat.
I am trying to think of events where food is not a part of the occasion. Of course there are some but they don't spring to my mind the way events that include food do. Birthdays, parties, weddings, catch ups with family and friends, conferences, religious and spiritual festivities and celebrations, going to the movies, watching TV, work functions, even funerals. Food punctuates our days with mini pauses such as popping out for a coffee or having a tea and biscuit break at work. We take pauses from writing an essay, studying, writing a proposal for work, doing the house work, writing job applications, where we have a little snack or a cuppa. The frequency of meals on long haul flights serves more as distraction or time filler than a need for actual sustenance.
We say thank you with a box of chocolates, we take chocolates to the hospital when loved ones are sick. We associate sweet foods with celebrations and emotional wellbeing. Some of the highest rating TV shows are gourmet-cooking shows. We watch these for entertainment as much as for instruction on how to cook.
Sometimes we eat because we are hungry and we are lucky we have food to nourish us when we are hungry. But eating is also related to social connection and rituals, to our families, our culture, our stories, our histories and our taste buds. It also for some, has become a self-soothing activity to bring relief for uncomfortable feelings such as heartache, loneliness, boredom, self-loathing and stress, among many other difficult emotions.
Food is used to sell emotional states all the time.For example there is an advertisement for dishwasher detergent using a relationship breakup to sell the product. The story involves a girl who is eating buckets of choc chip ice cream to help with her heartache. Her empty bowl is full of stuck on ice cream and the detergent will wash off even the stubbornness of heartache stains that the food she was eating has caused.
So, when we talk about weight loss being something that people just need to do, and that all they need to do is go on a diet, to eat less, to be disciplined, to count calories and just "be disciplined", we are failing to acknowledge the role that food plays in out lives other than just for fuel and nourishment. For many people food represents nurturing, and it is a token of love and appreciation. Even memories of childhood can be triggered by certain smells and tastes, which can be a big source of comfort or discomfort.
If we just remove these very important connections and associations to food from people, we can inadvertently create quite a sense of disconnection and loss from many activities that provide meaning and fulfilment in our lives.
I firmly believe one can lose weight and keep it off without being isolated from all the joys and happiness that food provides throughout our lives.
This is why when I work with my clients to help them manage their weight; I want to know who they are? What is their story? What role does food plays in their life? We can work together to create sustainable long-term weight loss without it feeling like a punishment full of deprivation and disconnection.
I am very pleased to announce that I have joined an endocrinology practice at St Vincent's Private Hospital as their weight management and health coach and we are launching a unique weight management program that will look after all aspects of patients health and wellbeing. This program will include a six month psycho/education/support group that I will be facilitating commencing Wednesday evening August 7th 6pm -7pm. Research shows that ongoing support can make a lot of difference to managing one's weight, and I am thrilled to be facilitating theses groups. We will also be holding regular talks that will cover a variety of topics related to the latest science and research to do with weight management. These will be open to the general public and will cost $30 a lecture. Or you can also contact: sydneyendocrineassociates.com.au to register your interest for the lectures or to find out about participating in any other part of the program.