This week Michelle Chalfant invited me to be a guest on her podcast, The Adult Chair, where we talked about:
- how unmet needs can show up as a strong drive or compulsion for food (and sugar)
- how to unwind the drive
- and compassionate ways to care for your human vulnerability without relying on food
We also talked about how you can use food to positively connect to feelings of love, community, and belonging. In other words, you do not have to turn food into an enemy!
Is it true that “food should only be fuel?”
In many nutrition circles, there’s a belief that “food should only be fuel,” and that to use food to convey anything else is unhealthy.
This belief is an understandable counterreaction to situations where food is used as a substitute for our deeper needs – things like love, security, safety, relationship, or attunement.
No, food, can not truly give us those things. And – I think the belief that “food should only be fuel” is also off, and missing something important.
The missing piece
What’s missing is relationship. Food is meant to connect us to something greater – to our bodies, to the earth that gives freely to us, to the people who grow our food, to our families, to love, and more.
When this connection is lost, food become devoid of its connecting, life giving, love embodying power. We end up with the worst of modern Western culture – addiction, isolation, industrialization, food injustice, food phobia, anxiety, neuroticism, hoarding and greed, and more.
Meal times, and food, become emotional, nutritional, and relational deserts.
Bridging the gap
Today there are many movements – including the Slow Food movement, the local movement, the permaculture and organic movements, and more – that are looking to heal this split. I would add my passion and expertise – attachment science (the study of human relationship and love) – to this list.
Where attachment and ‘Slow Food’ connect is this: both honor our innate need for relationship and connection. And both of these things take time, spaciousness, presence and slowness, values that are lost in achievement oriented cultures like our own.
How disconnection arises
When we feel disconnected, our hearts and bodies cry out. We protest, and rightly so!
We can feel this protest as a hunger for nourishing food rituals where we feel connected to the earth, to love, to our bodies, and to each other. It may appear as emptiness and an ache. It may appear as anxiety, including anxiety about health, our bodies and food.
It may appear as painful eating patterns like overeating. We may feel it as frustration, anger, and injustice.
Pair attachment with food
Pairing attachment – connecting, inviting human relationships – with food is a powerful way to join together our need for relationship and our need for nourishment. It can heal the pain of disconnection and separation.
When we gather round a table in community and connection, physical and emotional nourishment join together to create a feast to all who partake from it. Heart and soul and body are fed.
Using food to connect
In my own life, when I’m missing loved ones or feeling disconnected, I ground myself through rhythm, ritual, and connection, starting with how I feed myself.
I chop vegetables, I make a big pot of soup, I weed the garden, I water the plants. I cook my family’s ancestral foods: I may make my Italian grandmother’s spaghetti sauce. Or I eat lunch on the simple white dishes that were handed down from my Irish grandmother.
I take a moment before I eat and bless those who grew my food. I take a moment to bow to Love and to Source, to the plants and animals and life that feeds me.
These are simple ways of connecting to my ancestors and to Love, to hold love close when I feel apart. It is so simple, but incredibly powerful.
My own daughter does this, too, now that she lives away from home. The other day, she told me, “In my apartment, I cook like you do to have a bit of you with me.”
Weaving yourself into the web of life
I’ve never explicitly told my daughter why I cook my grandmother’s spaghetti sauce. I’ve never told her to cook my food to feel connected, or that I do this myself.
She intuitively does it for the same reason that I do, for the same reason that we all do: we all have these instinctual ways of holding love close, of creating connection, of weaving ourselves into the web of life.
As I see it, this weaving together of food + connection is not disorder. It is not representative of a dysfunctional relationship with food, but wild, earthy, soulful, heart based wisdom.
I suspect our collective relationship with food might feel more nourishing and satiating if we experienced more of it! May our mealtimes be filled with blessing: rituals and meaning where we feel deeply held by life, love and community.
Oh, Karly! I’m so grateful for your voice and support of health rooted in love.
I’m glad it was nourishing to you!
“It’s never too late.” How comforting! This is the type of comfort I need – long-lasting, deeply felt, and nurturing to my soul. Thank you for sharing…
Glad it was helpful to you!
Thanks for your deep thinking on food and connecting with others through it. As a sugar addict however, I have to find a different way to connect with others. For instance, maybe using certain phrases my mother used to use, or singing songs she used to sing, or even carrying on a healthy dinner recipe. As a sugar addict, I have no business passing on a cookie or cake recipe because I can’t handle it. It instantly becomes about the craving and often times, when I have done this in the past to try and “connect with others”, it has been with another food addict who, in actuality I am not really “connecting” with, but rather “binging” with. Thanks for allowing me to share.
Thank you for writing. You gave beautiful examples of ways to connect – singing your mother’s songs, or cooking one of her dinners – that are nourishing to body and soul.
I agree with you – bingeing (or drinking, or compulsive shopping, etc.) with someone can be a form of connection…. and is a poor, empty substitute for what we truly long for. But in the absence of true connection, it can be the substitute that feels better than nothing.
For me, it’s a call to create a culture that is one of nourishment and human relationship, what I believe is the ultimate answer to addiction.