We need a different conversation about food and weight. We need a conversation about food and weight that is not focused on the outcome being about food and weight.
We need a conversation that recognizes and centers two critical aspects of our difficulties:
- Our relationship with food is happening within the context of a larger food creation and distribution system that maximizes profits at the expense of public health, and;
- Our relationship with food is not about food and weight, but about deep relational wounds that often begin in childhood and for which food, eating, and weight control or chaos are symptoms.
There is an intersection where we find ourselves starved for the core sense of love, acceptance, belonging, and security, all of which evoke embodied feelings of satiety, warmth, fullness, and calm; and the prevalence of cheap, readily accessible foods that have little nutritional value, but also evoke a temporary sense of satiety, warmth, fullness, and calm.
Yet, because these very real sensations are not love, acceptance, belonging, and security, so many people find themselves driven to return to food as the source of the sensations over and over as we attempt to regulate our nervous systems in the face of very real unmet human need for deep connection.
This is the why when diets “don’t work.” Food restriction is incompatible with our physiology AND our neurobiology. When food is the solution to the problem, removing that solution still leaves the underlying problem.
This is true for all addictive patterns.
The solution must acknowledge the deep truth that we eat within a complex, economically driven, and politically protected food system that needs the population to eat and eat and eat.
We are provided a rich abundance of highly rewarding food products that keep us coming back for more.
All the while we are starved for the love and human connection we so desperately need for physical and psychological survival.
Nourishment, which is our very first experience of warmth, love, and safety moments after we are born is deeply wired into our beings to be associated with the core experience of love.
We have to stop demanding that people somehow eat normally in a very abnormal environment.
We have to end the suffering of shame and blame and daily private wars being waged with food in the battlefield of our bodies.
We have to reframe the discussion and help individuals and communities understand the problem is not will-power. It is not self-discipline. Is not that people are lazy or gluttonous.
It is that, as human beings, we are desperate for deep connection, yet we find ourselves deeply disconnected, not only from each other, but from ourselves.
We are not bad for seeking satiety, warmth, fullness, and calm in the face of constant discomfort, fear, distress, worry, and the terrible lie that we come to believe in childhood that we are fearfully and irreparably not enough. We are not bad for reaching for the thing that evokes the same embodied sense as that for which we so deeply long that is provided in such pervasive supply.
We must frame this conversation around removing the suffering of misunderstanding and blame for the individual and shifting the focus to empowering the individual and demanding that, as a society, we recognize the incredible harm our systems are doing to us as individuals and as a collective, as well as the planet we inhabit.
We must demand that health and mental health professionals divorce themselves from the “blame the individual” narrative around eating and weight. We must demand that professionals learn the available science of interpersonal neurobiology and addiction. We must demand that helping professionals honor the dignity of every human, trusting that each is doing the best they can within the context of their experience.
We must step beyond the false duality of fat/thin, healthy/unhealthy, good/bad, all/nothing narrative about food, weight, and eating disorders and compassionately recognize the profound need for human attachment – to ourselves and each other.
We must recognize that we are not eating in a normal environment for humans. We need complex solutions that compassionately recognize the complexity of our relationship with food as a species and its inherent link to our very nature as social beings.