When food is love and refusing is rejection!

This week I am continuing my discussions about the various ways that patterns are installed in childhood that condition adults to continue to overeat even when they don’t want to.

In some families and even entire cultures the symbolic meaning of food has become very powerful. Food, in common with other things such as money take on symbolic meanings in our culture. I suspect this mainly happens in cultures where basic needs have been met although as I write this I find myself questioning that statement.

As an adult I discovered that my family had been so financially poor that on some days my parents didn’t eat! I still don’t have the full information so I am not sure if it was both my parents or just my mother. I had not realised this sacrifice was happening at the time and in fact harboured many resentments about not getting the “goodies” that all the other kids at school seemed to get. As a child I didn’t have the cognitive maturity to process my parents’ financial situation and what is more they communicated it to me in ways that I didn’t understand.

On one level my mother going hungry so I could eat was a very clear indication of love however I didn’t know as she kept it secret so I’m not sure if this impacted on my patterning or not. It probably did at some unconscious level. However this version is not what I planned to write about today so I’m curious to see where my writing is taking me! I don’t know what’s coming next either!

As I reflect on what I’ve written I am now wondering if my mother was working from a basic survival level rather than a symbolic one. I’ll go on to explain what I mean by symbolic and then perhaps some of you could comment on your interpretation. This is the joy of blogging, to get feedback and multiple perspectives from others.

I have observed and coached a number of people over the years who experience the symbolic representation of food as love. In most cases the person demonstrating love with food is a woman, often a mother. Instead of or in addition to voicing feelings of love food is prepared with great love and in large quantities for loved ones. There are often family gatherings involved where everyone sits down together and eats enormous amounts of very good and lovingly prepared food.  To eat small amounts or to refuse unhealthy foods triggers responses of hurt from the food giver or overt pressure to eat up anyway.

This can often be viewed as enabling behaviour although this observation overlooks the positive intention behind the “food pushers” behaviour. In most if not all cases the person supplying the food genuinely cares about the person they are trying to feed up. It may be that they do not know other ways to demonstrate their love and this is as much a pattern for the enabler as it is for the person receiving the food.

These patterns are typically passed from one generation to another. As an example, as part of our NLP programmes we often have a pot luck celebration on our graduation day. The idea is that everyone brings a dish to share so we can have a meal together. Often there will be one or two people who bring enough to feed ten times the amount of people we have at the workshop, sometimes the people cooking for us all are in their early twenties and yet to start a family. The pattern is already set. They will usually bring a number and variety of dishes usually cooked from scratch. This year as I have begun exploring this issue I have made a note of the behaviours and will experiment with ways of setting the celebration up differently. You will probably have noticed that we had actually demonstrated another aspect of a symbolic food ritual by associating celebrating with eating together.

Eating together is a social ritual and many of us will go out for a meal to mark special occasions and celebrate successes. As we change our patterns for health reasons it will become important to either replace these rituals with others that are just as satisfying (word used deliberately) or learn to eat healthily at such events.

I wonder how many of you have recognised that you have a relative who has used food to demonstrate love and/or that you do it yourself? So what is the answer?

Here are some thoughts and I would welcome yours too.

If you have a relative who likes to feed you it might be time to have a special conversation with them. Often what I am about to suggest is avoided usually due to a fear of upsetting the other person. It is possible to have this conversation in a way that your loved one will feel more cherished afterwards than they did before.

Start by thanking them for all the care they take in preparing such wonderful food for you. Acknowledge what a loving act it clearly is and how much you appreciate and want to experience that love. Explain to them the reason you want to be at a healthy weight and what you know about the dangers of over eating or eating the wrong foods. Ask them for help. This is a powerful demonstration of love and trust. Ask them to research delicious foods that will keep your calorie intake at the right level. Ask them to help you be health so that you can live a long and happy llife. This will allow them to still cook for you so their need will be satisfied. You will be appealing to their internal motivation by giving them an alternative way to demonstrate love.

I can’t guarantee this will work however it is a great place to start.

What about if you know you have this habit too?

Start by asking yourself what is it I want to communicate and to whom. Challenge yourself to express your feelings directly. This may feel risky, scary and outside your comfort zone, however it’s worth going out on a limb because that is where the best fruit is to be found (pun intended). If you can find a way to express your love directly the pressure to feed other people will be less of a drive.

You can also of course research some healthy nourishing recipes too.

This week my thoughts are a little bit of a ramble so I may need to refine my ideas too. Do let me have your comments and thoughts. Do you agree or disagree? What is your personal experience of the symbolic nature of food?

Several people have asked my about how to get involved in the pilot early next year, I’m starting to think about that now. My first thoughts are:

  • There will be an application process and I will only accept people who commit to the programme fully as this will also be research.
  • There will be a fee that will be charged up front, this will by symbolic. By paying for the whole programme you will be psychologically committing to your own process.
  • The fee will be lower than the fee for later programmes as this is research.
  • I may run two pilots together, one in Bedfordshire and one in Sussex.
  • Places will be limited to a manageable sized group so that I can have one to one interaction with all participants.
  • There will be 2 to 3 one day workshops (face to face) one at the beginning, one in the middle and one at the end. Weekly there will be some kind of teleconference group.
  • I may look at the feasibility of running a webinar version if there is enough interest from people not in the appropriate geographical regions.
  • I will need people to visit their GP if they are more than 10% over their healthy recommended weight before joining the programme. This is for your health benefit and safety.

There may be other things I haven’t thought of but this is just to give you an idea. I will put the application process together this month and it will be available in early November.

Keep in touch



About Melody @ GWizlearning

Melody spent fourteen years gathering experience of the business world working in banking, telecommunications and the public sector before co-founding The GWiz Learning Partnership in 1993. Melody has a Masters Degree in Applied Positive Psychology, a degree in Psychology and a diploma in Psychotherapy. She is an NLP Master Trainer which allows her to run NLP Practitioner, NLP Master Practitioner and NLP Trainer Training courses certified by the Positive School of Intrinsic Neuro-Linguistc Psychology. She is also a qualified Myers Briggs practitioner and EI practitioner and added to all this is five years Transactional Analysis training, meaning she is able to help organisations access the hidden potential in their staff. She is also in demand for her work in transforming average or even troubled teams into high performers. Melody is a visiting lecturer at University of East London, teaching "Wellbeing and Positive Psychology" to undergraduates. Additionally, she is a member of the CIPD and is ILM accredited. Melody's interests are many and varied. She has a keen interest in personal development, canine and wolf psychology, conservation, movies and running. She also enjoys western horse riding, walking the GWiz dogs, nature watching and stage combat (particularly sword fighting).
This entry was posted in Emotional Awareness, Life in General, Perception, Personal Development, Self Esteem, Weight loss and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to When food is love and refusing is rejection!

  1. Sousa Hari says:

    What an interesting post! I straight away recognised the pattern of both overeating and overfeeding in my sister (and consequently, also now in her son and daughter). My sister was born in 1949 and rationing ended in 1954 when I was one. I was a slightly built child (possibly because my mother could only afford to feed me adequately? I remember often having a quarter of a tin of baked beans on a slice of bread after school, for my main meal. My father had a low paid but responsible job and we also had my grandmother living with us. My father kept several allotments for fruit, vegetable and salad to feed us all. I remember feeling a lot of nervous tension in the house – my father was very dower (I realise now that he must have been both depressed and exhausted) my grandmother was an over-anxious and negative thinker who developed Alzheimers, my mother was anxious and nervous, over-functioning in social settings by always cooking far too much. I don’t have any compulsion to cook large meals myself, or to overeat. When my sister and family came to my home for a meal, it must have seemed as though I didn’t care about them, as I prepared average portions. I hate going to their homes for meals as I am put in a position of having a loaded plate and expected to finish it. I don’t enjoy feeling uncomfortably full. Thanks to your article, I now know that this is their way of showing love, which they don’t show me in any other way. They all have weight issues whereas I do not; I suppose I thought of them as over-indulging themselves and haven’t been sympathetic. Thanks for opening my eyes to my own family complexities!

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