For as long as I can remember food has been an issue. Some of my earliest memories are of my Dad taking me to a bakery next to Baxter's Auto Parts. I can remember wanting to go with him when he went to Baxter's because he would take me to get a pastry. I don't remember how many times we did this, I just remember feeling special because he asked me to go and I got a treat. I must have been about four at the time. I remember that I got a danish shaped like a figure 8. I thought it looked like a racetrack. Food was how my family showed affection.
So growing up, if my Dad was feeling good, we generally got a treat. He might take one of us on a drive or to run an errand, and buy us a candy bar, or some other form of sugary treat. It made whoever was with him at the time feel extra special. It wasn't just my Dad either. Birthdays were made special with food. Achievements were rewarded with food. If my parents were in a good mood and happy with us then there was a higher chance of it being a night for what they called "A junk run." Dad would go to the store with specific instructions for bringing home something salty, sweet or some of each. We all looked forward to junk runs. It's no wonder that many of us in my family struggle with food issues. Our family celebrations are centered around the food. We never get together without an abundance of it and usually much more than we can eat. Food seems to be the one thing everyone in our family has in common. Differing political and religious views can easily be overcome over a plate of something delicious.
Other childhood memories for me around food involve eating myself sick. I can remember having the missionaries over for dinner when I was maybe six or seven and eating more than they did. In the moment I was proud that I out-ate the missionaries, but really, a little girl eating more than those big teenage boys? It makes me cringe to think about it. I often ate until I felt sick. During the night I would wake up and throw up just to feel better. While I was eating it, the food was a comfort, like being hugged. I felt loved and secure, but once I had overdone it, it was awful. You would think I would learn from the experience, but I never did. I was often sick from eating. My extended family still remembers the holidays when I would eat myself into a stupor and have to sleep it off afterwards. It has become a family joke. One that is funny to them but painful to me even though it has been more than 20 years since I ate to the point of having a food induced hangover.
So throughout my life food has been something to turn to for comfort. Getting a candy bar is like getting a hug. Food is how we say I love you. If you do good or have something to celebrate...you get food. If you're feeling down, some food will cheer you up. If we have more than enough to eat it means that we are financially doing okay. A full plate feels like security. Food is what we bond over both in the family and with friends. No wonder I have such an unhealthy relationship with it. Food is usually the first place I turn to for comfort, and I have managed to perpetuate the showing of affection with food. The message I sometimes send my kids is "I love you so I bought you your favorite snack." or "I cooked this for you because I love you, and I spent hours cooking it so you would know how much." I don't say those things out loud, but that is what comes across. I know it isn't the healthiest thing in the world, but I can't seem to get away from the idea of food equalling love and safety. Maybe being aware of it is the first step. I know this isn't an issue that is only mine. I think that many families probably work in a similar way.
I have been thinking about trying to recover from my food addiction. I know people can overcome smoking, alcohol and drug addictions, but how do you recover from being addicted to something that you have to consume to survive? How do you learn to separate the emotional response from the need for nutrients?