How Food Interferes with Relationships Substract

How Food Interferes with Relationships

  • Images Feb 11, 2021
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Relationships and Food

Humans’ relationship with food is a lengthy, intertwined, and complicated story. Were this relationship to be turned into a movie, with the likes of Martin Scorsese or James Cameron at the helm, it would resemble that of an epic tale exposing emotions ranging as wide as those expressed in a soap opera and a reality show like The Bachelor. There would be scenes of joy, fear, anger, jealousy, and anxiety, among others. Food has shaped how humans have evolved. As we learned to harness its potential we evolved from nomadic foragers to settled masters of agriculture to over-indulged consumers of highly processed foods in the Western World. We have ascended Maslow’s hierarchy of needs where once the sole purpose of our days was to find food, to a point where food is so abundant and with seemingly endless options and accessibility. The options, accessibility, and abundance of food have created their own problems for humans.


Meaning of Food

The meaning of food also altered as we evolved. Due to its abundance and the creativity of humans, it has come to represent the way we express love, sorrow, celebration, and comfort. With these new representations, our interactions with food lead us to form associations with food that are highly connected to our emotions and moods. For some, this is something that is manageable and has not impacted our health or our relationship with food and others. For others, this can lead to mental and physical health concerns. In those who experience negative outcomes as a result of the unfavourable relationships formed with food, this susceptibility can be attributed to the Loaded Gun Theory. Everyone eats, but not everyone develops issues with food or eating disorders. In the Loaded Gun Theory, it is posited that our genetics load the gun, and the environment pulls the trigger. Right now, our macroenvironment is creating unprecedented levels of anxiety, but trauma from the past and other current stresses can also exacerbate our complicated relationships with food.

So what do these deleterious relationships with food look like? It can take many shapes, but since this is the month of Love, with Valentine’s Day around the corner, we will look at how food affects our intimate relationships.


Food For Avoidance

For some, food is used as a replacement for a relationship. This can take various forms. There are individuals who have turned to food in the place of pursuing a relationship, or instead of focusing on the issues in their current relationship. What’s key here is that it is not the food that is the issue. The food is simply the medium in which the individual has turned to avoid a new or current relationship. As we explore this, keep in mind that there are individuals out there who are single who do not wish to have a relationship, and that is what is right for them. The content here relates to those who do wish to have a relationship, but food interferes with the pursuit of this connection.


People Who Want a Relationship

The reasons why some people turn to food instead of pursuing a connection are as varied as the types of food available to us. Some of the more common reasons include the following:

1) The individual has social anxiety and it is easier to have a conversation with a bowl of popcorn than a stranger. The idea of putting themselves out there is daunting and scary. There are many reasons why this can be such a difficult step to take and it can seem much safer in the short term to turn to food for comfort. Until the underlying reasons have been resolved, choosing to have a date with Suzy or having a date with sushi, the answer is simple; sushi will win;

2) The individual has faced rejection and is reticent to expose themselves to more rejection. Perhaps the individual has been on a couple of dates with various people or has been in a relationship and for whatever reason, the dates or relationship did not work out. To top it off, they were not the ones who broke it off. Events like these can have a severe impact on self-esteem, particularly for someone who is already struggling with low self-worth. For these individuals, they have never been rejected by food. Food is always there. They love food and food loves them. This relationship is strengthened every time an individual rejects them and every time food accepts them. Often this is a pattern that develops which brings about short-term feelings of comfort and then feelings of self-loathing which can exacerbate the cycle.

3) Some people will have gained a significant amount of weight and can tolerate someone rejecting them for their size rather than for their personality. They will continue to gain weight to ensure that the rejection is attributed to their weight and not to them as an individual. It is likely that this person experienced painful rejection in the past. They were rejected because of some aspect of their character and this hurt even more. Another time they were rejected for their size. This hurt differently, and so the narrative developed for this individual that being rejected for their size isn’t as bad as being rejected for who they are.

4) The feelings that food evokes are more satisfying than the feelings a relationship evokes. Many of us have felt that rush of a sugar ladened bar of chocolate that helped us slog through an afternoon work slump, or how comforted we felt when we were given a cookie by our mothers after a boo-boo, or how excited we feel at the prospect of a big Thanksgiving dinner. For others, the feelings elicited by food are even more powerful. This feeling can be as powerful as an opioid to some. The draw of the feelings conjured by food can outweigh any feelings one may have ever experienced from a relationship. The connection to food can be a powerful substitute for human connection and can take the place of intimate relationships when the idea of becoming vulnerable to another human can seem overwhelming.

Each of these reasons can be addressed with the guidance of a counsellor. If these are some of the reasons you turn to food instead of pursuing a relationship, talking to a counsellor can help to address beliefs contributing to social anxiety, concerns over rejection, self-acceptance, and exploring ways to find comfort and fulfillment without using food.


People Who Are in a Relationship

For those who turn to food instead of addressing concerns in their relationship, the reasons are as wide-reaching as above. The most common reasons people chose food over solving the problems in their relationship are:

1) The individual is scared that if they were to address the issues, their partner may not respond favourably, or may leave, so turning to food helps them to soothe the anxiety of unspoken concerns within the relationship;

2) Their partner is extremely busy, disconnected from the relationship, or other manifestations of absence. Food is always there, food is never busy, food does not disconnect;

3) The individual themself feels disconnected from the relationship, and while the health ramifications are concerning, the dopamine rush of the cookies numbs the concern and provides a feeling of connection to something;

4) Along these lines, there are individuals who are unfulfilled in their current relationship but have yet to recognize this as they have begun to self-soothe with food. A subconscious dissatisfaction is unwittingly hidden and numbed by the consumption of food.

To bring awareness to the associations one has to food and how food has been used to avoid, connect, and soothe, one can begin to develop a different relationship with food and their partners. Food can be a powerful remedy, however, there comes a point where food can lead to deleterious health outcomes, or psychologically take the place of fulfilling human interactions. Asking yourself, “Why am I eating”? will help bring this to the forefront. Other questions that shed light on one’s relationship with food are; “What am I getting out of this food/snack/binge?” and “How am I benefitting from the extra weight?” Speaking with a counsellor can uncover these associations one has developed with food, reframe how one thinks of food and themselves, and cultivate skills to improve communication with your partner.


Written by

Bernadette van der Boom-Bebb

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