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The Surprising Reasons We Choose the Foods We Do!



Our relationship with food is about so much more than the need to eat for survival. From our very first moments of life, we begin to associate food with intimacy and comfort. During our first weeks and months of life, when we experience the discomfort of hunger, we are held and fed and it makes us feel good again. Without even knowing it, we are becoming conditioned to expect food to make us feel good. Food becomes a central theme throughout our lives for celebrations of all kinds. What would a birthday party be without cake and ice cream? Family and friends gather around the dinner table, or the backyard barbeque, or for a picnic at the beach to share food with loved ones. Good times and good food go together. Special occasions, events, and even holidays involve food. Whether they be anniversaries, baptisms, Bar Mitzvahs, or buying our first home, special occasions are celebrated with food. Sharing food is a way of bonding with others, of sharing an intimate moment.


Before we can even remember, we associate food with things like comfort and intimacy. How we are raised and the role food plays in our families, will have an impact on the relationship we have with food as an adult.

Our self-esteem can be affected by how well we learn and apply the rules around eating in the families and communities we grow up in. We can also develop negative associations with food if withholding food is used as a punishment. Or we can develop an over-attachment to food if it is used as a reward. These can carry into adulthood as unhealthy relationships with food either in thinking we don’t “deserve” food so we deprive ourselves or in continuing to use food as a reward for something we have accomplished.

If we learned healthy eating habits in our childhood homes, we are less likely to have unhealthy relationships with food as adults. Healthy meals shared around the dinner table with family and friends, creates lifelong bonds and positive impressions around food. Children eating microwave meals or junk food alone in front of the television may produce adults who habitually eat the wrong kinds of foods to feel less lonely or bored.


The social class we grow up in can also shape our expectations around food. In her book, “A Framework for Understanding Poverty”, Ruby Payne distinguishes three perspectives on what our priorities are in regards to food, based on whether we are poor, middle-class, or wealthy. According to Payne, the key question a poor person will ask in regards to food is, “Did you get enough?” So, quantity is the priority when it comes to food. At a family gathering or when ordering in a restaurant, having a large portion size is important to feel satisfied. A middle-class person’s question would be, “Did you like it?” Because the quality of the food is more important than the quantity of food. A person of wealth would ask the question, “Was it presented well? Presentation – the asthetics of the meal and how appealing it is are important for those in the higher social classes.

If we grow up with a scarcity of food, we can develop insecurities around food. This can lead us to become what I call “opportunistic eaters”. Opportunistic eaters crave the comfort of food but feel insecure about its continued availability. Opportunistic eaters may overeat when food is available because they have learned that food may not be accessible the next time they are hungry or crave comfort. Opportunistic eating happens because food is available, and not necessarily because the person is hungry. Opportunistic eating is one of the many complex factors that can be involved in obesity.


We all have our own unique relationship with food. That relationship began with our first feeding and developed into complex associations that continue to guide our choices and decisions around food as adults. We need food to live. But our relationships with food go far beyond that. Food plays a part in some of the most important aspects of our lives. We share food with people when we celebrate happy occasions. We share food with people who are grieving to make them feel better. We bond with people over food. We enjoy people’s company more when we share a meal with them.

Food should be loved and lovely. Food should be prepared with love, served with love, and enjoyed with those we love. Food connects us to others, to our past, and to the fullness of the present moment.


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