You may have a loving relationship with a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife. You likely have a relationship with a mother, father, step-mother, or step-father, at least one of whom you care about a great deal. Many of you likely have relationships with children who you adore and good friends who you don’t want to live without. But you also have a relationship with one thing that will never love you back: food. In my forthcoming book, Smart People Don’t Diet: A Scientific Approach to Eating for Life, I provide information about how to have a healthy relationship with food (for information about my book, check out my blog here or get on my mailing list by emailing me at DrCharlotteMarkey@gmail.com).
Maybe you’ve never really thought about having a “relationship” with food before. After all, you have to eat. Even if you fear food (or weight gain), survival requires regular consumption. The necessary role that food plays in our lives leads many of us to have complicated relationships with food1 – relationships somewhat analogous to the relationships that we have with siblings that we love but don’t always like.
When I was younger, I had a love-hate relationship with food. On some level I loved it, but on another, I resented the consequences of food and my inability to control those consequences in a growing, adolescent body. Girls learn early on that it is bad to be fat and that being loved by others is dependent (at least in part) on how they look. Like most young girls, I wanted to be loved and realized that eating too much could compromise my romantic appeal.
However, at some point in my early adult life – a point that wasn’t as much an epiphany as a gradual coming to terms – I realized that food should not be a source of angst. There are relatively few sources of physical pleasure that are not only condoned, but required for personal survival. The tastes, the textures, the sights, and the smells make food an orchestra of primal indulgence.
Interestingly, research consistently suggests that individuals who spend a great deal of time worrying about food and trying to avoid it are likely to overeat, their weight tends to fluctuate, and they are apt to become overweight or even obese.2 Having said this, it is difficult for many to assign food an appropriate place in their lives. What we are naturally inclined to crave – sweet and salty foods – are often unhealthy.3 We live in a culture that prides itself in valuing excess; supersized meals, SUVs, and McMansions have sprung up alongside a breed of supersized people.4
How do we enjoy food without going overboard? How do we eat well without being excessive? How can we do all of this without spending every waking hour counting calories, reading food labels, or avoiding saturated fats? If I have a “philosophy” concerning food, it is pretty simple: establish good habits and then try not to think too much about food unless you are savoring a scrumptious dessert. Of course, it is rarely quite this simple; somehow this one sentence has expanded to fill ten chapters in Smart People Don’t Diet: A Scientific Approach to Eating for Life.5
Food is so much more important and less important than most of us make it out to be. It is important in that what we eat is a primary contributor to our health. One of the most logical ways to take care of ourselves is to nourish our bodies properly. However, food should enhance our lives and not detract from the other important aspects of our lives. We should save the real energy to invest in relationships with people who can reciprocate our love.
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1Rozin, P. (2005). The Meaning of Food in Our Lives: A Cross-cultural Perspective on Eating and Well-Being. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 37, S107-S112.
2Markey, C. N. & Markey, P. M. (2005). Relations between body image and dieting behaviors: An exploration of gender differences. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 53, 519-530. doi: 10.1007/s11199-005-7139-3.
3Birch, L. L. (1999). Development of food preferences. Annual Review of Nutrition, 19, 41-62.
4Brownell, K. D., & Horgen, K. B. (2004). Food Fight: The Inside Story of the Food Industry, America’s Obesity Crisis, and What We Can Do About it. NewYork: McGraw Hill.
5Markey, C. N. (2014). Smart People Don’t Diet: A Scientific Approach to Eating for Life. Book to be published by Da Capo/ Lifelong Books.
Dr. Charlotte Markey – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Markey’s research addresses issues central to both developmental and health psychology. A primary focus of her research is social influences on eating-related behaviors (i.e., eating, dieting, body image) in both parent-child and romantic relationships.
image source: steve-dividingbyzero.blogspot.com