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Eating our way through life: Food, feelings & family

Eating our way through life

Socializing and food can be very tightly bonded. Food related beliefs and behaviors get passed down from generation to generation.  Social gatherings peppered with food dot the landscape of our lives – birthdays, weddings, retirement parties, graduation parties – there are countless reasons to celebrate. We are literally eating our way through life.

We develop a deep emotional attachment to food when we eat to mark occasions filled with feelings – good and bad. Eating becomes interlaced with emotions and becomes imbued with meaning – food becomes fused with our social and cultural identities.

People working on changing their eating patterns inevitably butt up against the emotional significance of food in their lives. They must confront the symbolism and meaning of food, including the social rituals that have shaped their attitudes. This can be challenging when you’re adjusting your eating behaviours and still attending social gatherings. Social norms and expectations, coupled with emotional triggers, can easily overwhelm us if we’re not mindful of why we’re eating when we’re gathering. 

To successfully map out a new relationship to food, it’s critical to unlearn the emotional narrative that we have developed between socializing and eating. The first tier of awareness in the unlearning process is to understand that the significance of being connected to others does not have to be predicated on the consumption of food.  To be and feel accepted does not mean that you must eat your way through an experience. We can allow ourselves to be present with our feelings and the feelings of others without sublimating those feelings by filling ourselves up with food.  

But what about when you’re feeling pressured by those closest to you?

“I spent all day making this for you.”

“A little piece of cake won’t hurt you.”

“What do you mean you don’t eat carbs, sugar, dairy?”

Belonging does not have to mean mirroring the behaviours of others – guilt is not a healthy appetite maker. You have the right to set boundaries and say “no thank you”. What and how you eat is not the same as what and how you’re feeling. We need to peel these two experiences apart and let them stand on their own two feet.  

I used to feel guilty and get angry trying to explain to others my attitudes towards food.  I started to realize that I was self sabotaging my wellness journey by allowing myself to become stressed at every family occasion. All the positive things I was working on with food were being undone by the emotional toll that stress was taking on my body. Part of unpacking my attitudes towards food and family was becoming more aware of my reactions, new and old.

The transition from past behaviors to new ones will create friction for you and possibly your family. That’s okay. It’s important to accept these tensions as part of the emotional journey to stop eating your way through life and its seminal moments.

There are diets and then there are lifestyles. Diets come and go. Lifestyles are grounded in the fundamental ideas and feelings we have about ourselves. When we feel anchored in a positive sense of self, eating healthy becomes more natural and second nature. Explore the reasons why people fall off the dieting horse and learn strategies for goal setting that will set you up for a lifetime of nutritional success. You got this!

Written by
Maria Hatzimarkos