There is an adage that ‘you are what you eat’ but whilst the food we eat does mirror some aspects of our interior world, it certainly goes nowhere near the complexity of what is each of us. Nevertheless, we cannot live a healthy life without giving some consideration to what we put into our bodies. There is the very serious added factor that whilst individuals who are mature ‘eat in order to live’ there are many individuals who ‘live in order to eat’. These latter persons have cleverly found a substitute for the unconditional love they did not receive in the past and are not currently receiving. Food fills the void, the emptiness within. However, because food is a substitute – there is nothing compared to the real thing – its filling effects are temporary and the compulsion to eat quickly re-emerges in order to keep trying to fill what is, in effect, a bottomless pit. Nevertheless, without the substitute, living would be intolerable.
It follows from the foregoing that when we make a decision to review our eating behaviour we need to determine which camp do we belong to – ‘eating to live’ or ‘living to eat’? Generally speaking, those in the first group fare well with taking on the challenge of healthy eating and exercising, whereas those in the second group, struggle, and, as pointed out, for good reasons. For this group there is a double diet to be pursued:
- What do I feed myself in terms of unconditional love, kindness, warmth, support and tenderness?
- What do I put into my body in terms of food and beverages?
When the two diets are attended to then progress towards both emotional and physical wellbeing is much more likely. Indeed, the warmth, support and encouragement experienced from fellow travellers and the Dietician/Nutritionist offering the course on healthy eating and exercising can be a powerful motivating force that helps individuals to stay on track.
We well know that outlining the dangers of anything – food, alcohol, drugs, speeding and over-work – rarely changes behaviour. Change always comes from the inside-out. It is only when individuals consciously acknowledge a truth that they are set free from whatever inner torment was regulating their lives. Nonetheless, it is important that information is available regarding the dangers certain foodstuffs pose – but this knowledge needs to be communicated in a sensible, non-alarmist and non-fanatical way. Incidentally, when somebody is fanatical about food they need to seriously examine to which of the two groups mentioned do they belong; inevitably, it will an unconscious issue of abandonment that will be motivating their fanatical behaviour. Seeking out individuals who devote their careers to the study of food and its bio-chemical effects is a worthy exercise, as is discovering what foods best nourish us?
An example of the threat that food poses is that cholesterol appears to play a major role in heart disease. Dietary cholesterol is a fatty substance only found in foods of animal origin. In countries where hamburgers, hot dogs and ice-cream dominate people’s diet there is a high incidence of heart disease compared to countries like China and Japan where their diet is low fat and the incidences of heart disease are much lower. An interesting study by Dr. Dean Ornish of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, USA demonstrated that by eating an almost exclusively vegetarian diet with about ten per cent of calories from fat, plus walking regularly and practicing yoga and meditation regularly over a period of one year, individuals who had severe coronary artery disease showed significantly increased blood flow to their hearts This study is a dramatic demonstration of the power of the human body to heal itself, when given a chance. Most importantly, this change was accomplished, not with drugs, but by individuals changing the way they eat, exercise and meditate.
Changing our relationship to food and exercise is not easy; this is evident from all the failed aspirations and efforts individuals make to lose weight and get fit. Joining a group with an experienced Nutritionist/Dietician helps to become conscious of our defensive behaviours around eating, of our thoughts and feelings and of the social pressures associated with food and eating. Paying attention to the quality of the food we eat, how it was grown or made, where it comes from and what is in it are other important considerations. What is critical to progress is that the acknowledgement of our attachments and cravings around food mirror deeper emotional realities and it is here we will find our greatest challenge.
Dr. Tony Humphreys is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist/Author and National/International Speaker. His new book with co-author Helen Ruddle, The Compassionate Intentions of Illness is now available in bookshops. His website is www.tonyhumphreys.ie