Why do we eat?
The quick answer would be just to survive, if you do not eat, you die. But when we are devastated after a breakup, waiting for an email or a call from work, or for some test results and suddenly feel the urge to have a sugary snack, does our life depend on that?
My mom would tell me that very early in my life it was almost impossible to make a spoon of plain mashed potato squash enter my mouth. I used to sit in this tall chair, bib on the chest, surrounded by a floor covered by newspaper sheets. Anyone who would have gone into the kitchen would have thought we were redecorating. My parents tried and tried, they sang songs, danced, played instruments, and tried to convince me the spoon was an airplane. But why in the world would I want to eat a means of transport!? I could not care less, I would spit it all out. I simply rejected it out of my system.
Much later on, when I was at primary school, I remember my worried mom complaining to the pediatrician because I would not eat the food I had on my plate together. For instance, if it was pasta with meat, I would only eat the meat and so. I would eat what I enjoyed most first and then, after being full, ate a tiny bit of the rest.
As a teenager, I was a lot more self-aware of my body and wanted to be thin to be accepted. So, I avoided certain foods I knew would make me gain weight. I decided to stop consuming sugary drinks and junk food. But how cruel and anti-natural is it to try to stop yourself from eating highly addictive processed foods that were specially designed to make your taste buds throw a party?
At a social level.
We should not forget food, besides being crucial to our survival as a species, is also used as a way of socializing with others. Food is the main protagonist at birthday parties, anniversaries, graduations, and other special occasions. Eating is an activity we make with others. It is even a celebration in itself when a baby has its first taste of solid food. For some people, cooking for others is a way of showing love and affection.
Food is also a unit of measuring time. School and working hours are organized around meals, or is it the other way round? We typically stop working at 12 because it’s lunchtime. Mealtimes force us to eat certain foods at a specific time, even though we do not feel like it. Anyone would have at least three meals a day, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Of course, it is culture-dependent, but generally speaking, some combinations are just not acceptable. Do not even dare to try to take coffee and lasagna first thing in the morning or dine a strawberry and banana smoothie.
Would it ever be possible to start eating more instinctively?
At the psychological level.
As a young adult and after trying intermittent fasting, I realized I ate for several reasons other than to satisfy a basic need. Sometimes, I did it because I was anxious, frustrated, stressed, or because I did not have better things to do. Other times, it was social pressure or I even ate because I was exhausted and thought food would alleviate me. I would sometimes eat plain cocoa powder hidden in one corner in the middle of the night.
I think, overall, that when eating becomes an issue or a disorder it is because we see it as a solution to a variety of non-food-related problems. It is as absurd as watching an episode of Modern Family every time we are thirsty. We attach a universal solution to our problems. Maybe next time I feel restless I could try taking a nap, if I am feeling all alone I could call my friends, or if I am frustrated and overwhelmed by work, I could take a deep breath. But as they say, easier said than done…