Comfort foods are often used as rewards. When I was seven and I didn't want to go to ski school my father would promise me, "If you go skiing, Ali, you'll get a Wendy's frosty!" Right there, a child is taught that when they have to do something they don't like, they will get a treat. Sometimes he was even at the end of the slope, all bundled up with that special yellow cup in hand. If I was very lucky I might even get a chicken sandwich and fries.
My father is not at fault as most of us are inclined and taught to show love with food. My dad's grandmother, Ada, would fry meatballs and bake outstanding chocolate cakes to make her young grandson happy. To this day no one can truly recreate her recipe. If I am in the Catskills at my parent's house making an egg omelette, my mother Joanie will intervene, "let me do it!" It is her way of showing love. Her mother does it. Most mothers do it. I do have to admit that Joanie's Spanish omelette does have that je ne sais quoi, which can only be described as cooked with a little extra love.
The beginning stages of dating often revolve around meals. Quite possibly, this stage never ceases. On our second date my now boyfriend cooked a large tower of stacked eggplant Parmesan to impress. Garlic spinach and Malbec were also at hand. I was happy. Food makes me happy. Was this learned from the frosty skiing days? Though the man was now different, I was being shown love (well probably lust) with comfort food.
Unrequited love and breakups also revolve around meals. It is cliché but quite true that the heartbroken often find themselves staring into an empty carton of Ben & Jerry's or something like it. Since he couldn’t bag The Little Red-Haired Girl, Charlie Brown chose chunky peanut butter (as do I). Binge eating or eating in general is a way to avoid reality. Reality is dimmed when focusing on taste and smell. This is a short-lived adventure; when the meal is done the light is turned back on and reality is shining through. Often reality is accompanied by feelings of guilt for indulging. See my article at Elite Daily for further information on why the heartbroken crave carbohydrate-ridden piles of food: The Heartbreak Diet
Yesterday while working on a project, my sister Jillian was acting slightly cranky. If someone is in a negative mood around me I often ask, "Are you hungry?" Maybe I am now at fault here, but it's a quick fix for a distraction. Food is distraction. In this case, my food fix didn't solve anything, as Jillian had a turkey & swiss sandwich 30 minutes before I arrived. She wasn't hungry. Something else was bothering her. I should have asked, "What's wrong, do you want to talk about it?" But I am prepared to solve with food. I even carry snacks for all.
All of these discussed reasons are why many find it difficult to stick with a "diet." They will be on track for a few days but then they want a reward for working that 12 hour day. They might want to bake their boyfriend some red velvet cupcakes to apologize for their fight the night before. A friend was just cheated on by that jerk, so a tipsy brunch is in order. Food is used in both times of celebration and grief. Weddings & birthday parties for all ages revolve around "the cake." After funerals, during the Jewish ritual of sitting Shiva, food is sent to the homes of the grieving.
It is important to form a healthy relationship with food. It is everywhere. It will be around next week at your coworker's birthday. It is next to you on check out lines at all types of stores these days, even at Staples. Why does an office supply store need food on its check out lines? I just went in for some printer ink and now I have gummy bears staring at me.
Your best bet is to learn the role that food plays for you. Food is not a reward. Food is meant to nourish and to help sustain a healthy and active life. Try to eat for that reason. I should have offered Jillian a walk around the block to blow off some steam; maybe my father should have said, "you will be so happy when you're older and can impress all of the boys on the black diamond hill."
Give someone a card for "no reason" to show love rather than shoveling food in their mouth. It is better to feel the sadness than to mask it with french fries. When your friend loses her job, actually talk about it. Acknowledge the vast array of feelings that we feel and what comes along with them; this will allow for a few bites of the birthday cake, only one glass of wine on that date, and some excellent skiing skills.