Is there a link between food and meaning and purpose?
A couple of years ago I was working with a group of overweight people at a large organisation supporting them in their desire to lose weight. I quickly came to realise that ALL of them had self-control and self-discipline in bucketful’s. They told stories of sticking to eating programmes to the letter and losing weight. And then, one day, finding that they once again were big, or even bigger. When listening to their stories I began to realise that when they were on the journey to their ideal weight they found great meaning and purpose in focusing on the good eating and exercise habits and the exciting outcome. And they took pride in being on the journey of self-care. Then when the goal weight was reached their focus shifted to getting on with life.
They told stories about how on a Friday evening they stopped at the shops on their way home and bought a sweet treat for the family. But when they pulled up in their driveway they found that the sweet treat was gone, and they had not even been aware of eating it all. Or there was the story a man told of how many times he had bought a large bag of his favourite crisps and it was only when his hand was scrabbling round the bottom of the bag searching for the chip that he realised the bag was finished, and somehow he had not even tasted them.
This was all about emotional eating, and I recalled how often I have stopped and bought my favourite chips, biscuits and chocolates, and sat in front of TV and eaten the lot. On reflection I realised that each time I was either sad or lonely, feeling lost, feeling excluded, or not good enough. Basically it was a feeling of loss of meaning and purpose, and so I ate to get some comfort.
Comfort food and emotional eating – they go together. Comfort foods are usually a varying combination of fattiness, sweetness, warmth and smoothness. I once heard someone say that comfort food is a longing to feel all the good feelings we felt as a baby when breast feeding – the warmth, smoothness and the fatty sweetness of the mother’s milk. And the experience of unconditional caring in that moment.
As I continued to work with the corporate group we started to ask the questions of how to take on the adult responsibility of comforting ourselves in an enduring way. As a group we concluded that when we have a deep sense of personal meaning for our lives, and a sense of purpose, we no longer needed to fall back on comfort food. This was an overwhelming insight, and we were floored with the question of ‘…what to do now?’
We decided to start small – well, we thought we were starting small, but it would turn into something else. The group decided that every time we felt a desire for a chocolate, instead of going out and getting one, rather we would ‘give away’ the gesture of sweetness. We would get up from our desks and go and say a kind word to someone, or send a special What’s-App message to a friend. When we wanted a big gooey pizza, or stodgy bowl of fatty stew, we would give more abundant messages of comfort to those we know were having a hard time.
In the giving of what we felt we needed, we received back in abundance that sense of our lives and our relationships having meaning and purpose. For many this turned out to be no small start; rather it was a journey of personal transformation to one of genuine sweetness, warmth and comfort, and without the fatty thighs.
For information about a good healthy way of eating log onto the MEMBER PORTAL and scroll down to Road to wellness: General Health for general wellness tips. Or log onto MYPLAN to set up a personal eating plan.