Approval as One Form of Emotional Eating
Getting approval from others, especially those close to us is a way to ward off the anxiety we’ll feel if those people are unhappy when we want to say no. In this case, at a dinner with family or friends where you feel pressured (from within or without) to eat.
If we slowed that scene down, we’d see how it might play out. You’re sitting at a dinner table and the host offers you another serving of something they cooked (especially for you of course). You stutter a bit and realize you’re too uncomfortable to refuse. It all happened in a nano second and most of it was automatic.
Anxiety and discomfort arose from within, the other person was expecting to get their way and you know it. Then you imagined what would happen if you were to say “no.” You realize you couldn’t tolerate the even greater spike of anxiety, so you shut yourself down and accepted with a weak smile.
It happens fast and comes from being codependent in general.
It also comes from certain childhood experiences around food.
Scarcity and Waste
If your mom was anxious in general (a rare occurrence I know) then there is a good chance she had some anxiety around food and around how and what you ate as a child. Most of it had nothing to do with food as anxiety expresses itself in thousands of benign ways.
Some moms are anxious about waste and want their families to make sure they don’t throw away much. Maybe they grew up poor, went through a financially difficult time or had that drilled into them from their own mom.
Doesn’t matter though, you got the end product and that meant that you had to make her happy by finishing what was put in front of you.
Many moms are worried about their child getting enough food which is common and perhaps even valid at times. But like all concerns, worry can be taken too far to the point of being counter productive.
They worry you’ll waste away to nothing if you don’t eat. A stress that is easily detectable by the child, even if it’s unconscious. So you eat and she feels better and gives you your reward … her warm smile, approval and a safer and more stable feeling environment (i.e. she’s less stressed therefore so are you).
“Eat what I cook to make me feel better!”
We all want to feel that we have some talents or abilities that are useful or pleasant to the world. Some women put pressure on their families to eat because doing so validates their ability to be a good mom and wife.
Others make it known through their tone and body language that they will be hurt (and angry afterwards at you for hurting her) if you give your honest opinion about their cooking. That silent code is picked up, you feel that familiar anxiety again and end up telling her how amazing the food was. Also that you’re really full thanks.
In both instances you pick up that the other person will be somewhat miffed and that there will be a tension of sorts that you wish to avoid.
Yielding to please others or to not rock the boat is sometimes called being polite. I call it being destructive – to yourself. Doing so reinforces that belief in your head that says you should put yourself aside and do what others want.
Other people’s feeling are much more important that mine. Other people’s wishes are more important than mine. Eventually this translates into, “Other people are much more important than me.”
Walking around with that faulty belief system stops you from having authentic relationships, from making money (asking for raises or discounts), from taking the time and space for self care and from developing psychologically in general.
That is a HUGE price to pay for being polite.
Again though, we do this because we have a difficult time handling the tension that will come from the anxiety that follows after we say no, or express how we truly feel.
So we eat in an emotional manner… to please.
Eventually this pattern results in a deep seated resentment towards those that put the pressure on you to conform. Many of us are “nice” and so are out of touch with that resentment so it expresses itself in passive aggressive ways. Avoiding the person throughout the evening, cancelling or giving excuses why you can’t make their dinner party.
So what can we do? Tips and tricks are fine for a situation here and there but they won’t do much good long term. The most valuable tool you have is awareness. In other words learn to feel.
Become aware of the anxiety you feel walking into the house, of how you feel when talking to the other person. Your reactions to their emotional states, the various tensions that come up. When you asserted yourself and when you didn’t. All valuable information.
After a time these thoughts and emotions are out in the open, no longer in your unconscious and you can choose to react in a way that is good for you.
It will still be difficult but by taking small steps forward you pull yourself out of the hole you were in and wake up to find that you are free in many other areas of your life as well.
It’s worth the effort.
THE EATING LOVE GUIDE (FREE)
The Eating Love Guide has helped many people regain control of their eating patterns, resulting not only in weight loss but also better health and improved self-esteem. To read it online, click here.