Let’s talk Basic Human Needs and how “Overweight” and “Food Struggles” start and continue…
As soon as we are born, an infant comes into the world with Basic Human Needs. The need for love, protection, safety are common to all human beings. As a child grows up, add to the list of Basic Human Needs, the need for belonging, understanding, acceptance and acknowledgment. The role of a parent or caregiver is to meet a child’s needs so they feel secure, cared for, valuable and worthwhile. When these needs are invalidated and denied, a child experiences fear, pain and stress.
Fear and stress are like storm clouds signaling a person to run for cover. Unfortunately the refuge some children retreat to takes the form of food. Its drug-like effects give a person pleasure and relieve pain. Through no fault of her own, a child, having a limited repertoire of skills, does a behavior she has already mastered….eating. Were a child to have already developed skills in self-protection, connecting, and problem-solving, using food as a drug would not be unnecessary.
A child who learns to substitute food for some unmet need eventually becomes an adult. Using food “to cope” is a familiar default response. Most significantly, a grown person who has food struggles or an overweight problem, gives food human-like attributes that relate directly to unmet human needs.
Please understand that eating for nutrition, eating for fuel to sustain activity, is fundamental to survival. We must eat. Yet, when we eat more food than our body needs, “something” is going on within an individual. When food is used to escape loneliness, anxiety, frustration or acts as a person’s only source of pleasure, food has now taken on human-like attributes.
Have you ever met a chocolate cookie that has arms, lips, legs, a brain, a voice? You may laugh reading this question. Seriously though, Emotional Eaters use food to cope with situations they perceive as “too difficult” to handle. Though some situations, once explored, are best resolved by walking away, chocolate chip cookies have yet to bake feet and legs. Some people have told me it’s as if they hear cookies shouting “eat me, eat me” until they finally give in. Before they know it, there they are going to the cupboard, pulling out a box and chowing down. Even though eating will abate discomfort, the relationship or situational difficulty that led to emotional eating remains unsolved.
Cookies do not have a voice. We do. Some situations of difficulty call for a person to speak up on their own behalf. Think of stuffing down food as stuffing down the expression of a personal voice. In fact, effective communication naturally leads to fulfilling unmet needs like acknowledgement, protection or acceptance. Let’s say a family difficulty exisists. Your mother is ill and the rest of the siblings are leaving you to take care of her. Constant attention to mom is deteriorating your health and causing you to eat compulsively out of resentment and anger. You’ve already gained 20 pounds in two months. To withhold your thoughts and feelings is to deprive yourself of a balanced quality of life. Likewise, family members are deprived of an opportunity to acknowledge you, know what is happening and support you in some way that will work.
Many situations require using your mind to problem-solve and generate alternatives. Cookies do not have cognitive powers. After all, its human beings who made up the recipe. The human brain is capable of choosing from options and formulating a sequence of action steps to take. To sit passively on the couch, eating and gaining weight as if a situation is “impossible” to solve, zaps a person of the basic human need for self-acceptance and belonging.
Let’s say your lover of the last six months has decided to break up. You feel rejected and find yourself obsessing over this guy, gaining pounds and more pounds. The ice cream tub ofRocky Roadyou have been spooning from each evening, is without arms to hold you and lips to kiss. To fulfill a basic human need to love, be loved and to belong, requires self-awareness and perspective. Isolating and retreating to cookies and ice cream makes achieving them impossible.
When a person describes themselves as an “emotional eater,” they are ascribing food with human-like qualities it simply does not have. To make chocolate chip cookies more powerful than developing the behaviors that will lead to love, belonging, self-protection and acceptance, is to negate one’s basic needs and personal capabilities. Struggles with food and overweight can be erased as we update our behaviors releasing the old (we aren’t 6 years old anymore) and align with our maturity and healthier self-concept.
Call 760-798-9076 to speak with Dr. Denise in person or email [email protected] for more information.