Women and Food

Let's face it... many women have a complicated relationship with food. We not only buy it, cook it, serve it, eat it... we worry about it. We worry about adequate nutrition... probably not unreasonably in a world of intensive agriculture, cold storage, and processed foods choc-laden with sugar, salt, fats, artificial colours, flavours and preservatives.

Food can also be an enemy. Women's magazines are full of 12-year-old girls made up to look like adult women, anorexic models, and hips and thighs artifically "airbrushed" off cover girl photos. Thin is beautiful, apparently, and food is the enemy of "thinness". The multi-billion "diet" industry, and the absurdly high rates of eating disorders among women in the West is testament to the sinister nature of the "thin is beautiful" dogma.

But food is one of life's great pleasures. Food makes us feel good. Food makes us feel comfortable. Food is not only a necessity: it is designed to be enjoyed. Jesus' reputation by his enemies was as a "glutton and a drunkard". (Matthew 11:19) He understood the importance of meals not only in sustaining us physically, but in sustaining us emotionally, and in connecting us with others.

Like anything, this can go toxic. It is possible to eat as a substitute for emotional connection with others; as a substitute for fulfilment; as a substitute for dealing with issues; as a substitute for healthy activities; as a method of procrastination. Somehow in a sick and crazy world we need to find a way to truly enjoy food, to savour it, to delight in it with others and the sense of community this brings... while resisting the temptation to use food as an emotional substitute for dealing with issues through prayer and godly action. We need to honor our God-given appetites, without letting them go toxic.

What does food mean to you? Are you at peace with your body and your appetite, or is it more complicated than that for you?


Janet McKinney said…
Wow Janet - you raise my big issue. What a complicated relationship I have had with food since childhood.

It is a complicated and tortuous journey - resulting finally in weighing in at over 175kg. In this last year, I have had a gastric band inserted around my stomach, and for the first time in my life I have discovered how it feels to actually eat a small amount of food, and feel satisfied. I now can experience feeling uncomfortable if I eat even couple of mouthful (gee - how do you pluralize mouthful) more than necessary.

(OK - I know you want to know - I have lost 33kg so far -well last time I weighed in I had)

I have lived with an intensive love/hate relationship with food all my life. I can remember sneaking downstairs as a small child and gorging out on entire bunches of bananas (my father was a banana farmer).

Even now, I can crave eating food that has nothing to do with needing food in my stomach.

I have had to deal with some sexual abuse as a child, and when I was having some group counselling, i found it interesting to note that every person in the group had a struggle with food - either over-eating or under-eating. That was like a light turning on inside my heart.

Arghhh - this is hardly a full story - I am prepared to answer questions or explore this further.

Janet McKinney
Janet Woodlock said…
Janet, thank you for sharing so openly about this issue. Ahd if you're feeling brave enough, I would be interested to hear more.

I was overweight for 10 years of my life for one simple reason... dieting. I was either "on" a diet, or "off" a diet... and when "off" I would over-eat. Restrictive diets created in me a food obsession.

After a prolonged struggle, I just gave up. I decided I would accept my weight as it was, and that I would probably never change. Paradoxically, that is when I learned to eat when I felt like it... and slowly lost weight without trying... and have maintained normal weight for the past 20 years or so. I only learned to "hear" what my body wanted and needed when I gave up on "diets" for good.

But of course... when there are painful issues in someone's life this tends to produce more serious addictions... anything that provides comfort and relief gets turned to again and again.

Your observation that survivors of childhood abuse tend to overeat (obsessive need for comfort) or under eat (obsessive need for control perhaps... or perhaps to punish the body) is really interesting. I'm aware that victims of abuse are prone to drug and alcohol addictions also... anything to dull the pain.

It's complicated isn't it?
Janet McKinney said…
You are so right about dieting causing weight gain. Scientifically this is a proven fact.

Several years ago when I was praying seriously about my weight, and going through the counselling, I had one of those AHA moments where I became convinced that it was dieting that was my problem, and my body was determined to refuse to lose weight permanently. This was against the prevailing wisdom at the time - but when I shared it with my pastor, his response was - if that is a revelation from God, then to hold on to it. But I never could understand it.

I can remember mapping my weight loss journey, and realised with great clarity that the only long term consequence of serious dieting was an immediate weight loss (sometimes of up to 20 kg), and then regaining all of the weight again, and usually gaining on top of that the amount I lost as extra.

I was determined never to go on a diet again without finding out the reason for this return weight gain. I did - three more times, and gained a further 15kg each time!!

Recently there has been research into the two hormones leptin and ghrellin -the appetite hormones. Leptin's purpose is to tell us when we have had enough to eat, and is secreted from the top of our stomach (sets off when we are full) and from fat cells - telling us we don't need to eat too much, we have fat stores to keep us going. What a beautiful design implanted into our bodies.

To prevent starvation, ghrellin's purpose is to scream, yell and control us when we are hungry and low on nutrition - it is the appetite hormone that is one of the strongest in the body, designed to ensure the survival of the species.

Now you would think that with this very clever system, a person who is overweight is surging with leptin hormones, and has virtually no ghrellin hormones - so it should be a simple choice for them just to eat less. Many people say that - "why don't you just eat less. That is how my body works. Why on earth do you eat more than you need - it hurts, is uncomfortable, you must be a masochist to deliberately hurt yourself like that every day"

PROBLEMS; When you diet and lose a significant amount of weight, and regain it again, you actually reverse your body's hormonal system. Testing shows that a person who has yo-yo dieted (lost and regained weight - and much worse if you lose the weight faster than 0.5kg a week) this hormonal system is reversed.

You have NO satisfaction or turn off mechanism for food. Since being banded, I have realised that I have NEVER in my memory of life known what it is to be over full. When I had completed a meal, I could get up, and clean up the plates, and eat the left overs, sometimes as much as a another meal. I learned NEVER to cook more than I intended to eat - because for some reason it would disappear in the next hour or two - often without conscious thought. The only way I could successfully lose weight was through strict measuring of what I ate, and calculation of how many calories that gave me. As long as that was the most important thing in my life, I could stay in control. Sickness, business, other people, lack of availability of exactly the right foods etc - if they took priority - goodbye diet, and it was impossible to start again.

So listening to my body was useless. When I spent some time really trying to, I was forever having to tell it - You are telling me lies, you are not hungry - but yes I was, my stomach was growling, it was hurting - so much so I had several endoscopies to find the ulcer in my stomach which did not exist. I did not like my body - it was my worst enemy at trying to get healthy.

On top of that, a yoyo / morbidly obese person's ghrellin hormonal content is totally buggered. Testing shows that the level of this person's ghrellin AFTER eating a full meal was higher than a normal person's level who had not eaten at all for one or two days. So therefore, after I had eaten, my body was sending me messages - EAT NOW OR YOU WILL DIE all the time. No wonder I would wake up at 12.00pm and wander in the kitchen to eat when my defenses were down.

One of the wonders of bariatric surgery (surgery to induce weight loss) is that for some reason it almost reverses these hormonal abnormalities. It is not yet known why - but it certainly is my experience. I can remember only a month or so after the surgery saying to my mum - I feel awful, I ate an extra mouthful of weetbix, and now it hurts. Her response was - when that happens to me, I just learn to eat less next time.

WHAT.... I had NEVER experienced that in my life. One mouthful makes a difference. I learned to embrace this, and listen to the message.

But that is the essential difference between someone who can eat normally, and may overeat through genuine gluttony - refusing to listen to the messages, and someone whose body is totally stuffed up. We don't blame a diabetic who cannot metabolise sugar because of hormonal imbalances - why do we blame obese people who have an equally devastating hormonal balance.

Enough for now- as you can see I have a LOT to say about this.

Janet McKinney
Janet Woodlock said…
Janet, that is fascinating. I discovered "dieting makes you fat" entirely by accident (and grace) after years of feeling conflicted about food. I didn't realise this is now understood by scientists in terms of appetite hormones.

I feel this needs to be taught in EVERY school as a counter to the madness of "drop a dress size in a week" magazine diets. The message has to be screamed to NEVER go on a restrictive diet... it will stuff up your hormones and make you fat.

The message for long term health is unglamorous and boring... eat mostly healthy foods, drink plenty of water, listen to your body, exercise regularly, never go on a restrictive diet. Prevention is so, so much better than cure on this... and with very young girls going on "diets" the education needs to start early.

Thanks for sharing...
Janet Woodlock said…
On this topic, I've remembered something that happened to me earlier in the week.

I forgot to bring lunch with me when supervising an exam, so I just put up with being a bit hungry until mid-afternoon. But then I found myself nibbling for most of the rest of the day! This was something I used to do as a "dieter"... under-eat at the start of the day, then over-eat later in the day (after deciding I'd blown the diet anyway so I may as well keep eating.) It's almost like the body was saying "Clearly a famine is looming because you haven't been able to eat much all day... you'd better start eating URGENTLY!" I just find it interesting that this response "kicked in" so quickly. Do you know anything about this Janet?
Janet McKinney said…
You have it exactly right Janet. This is one of the reasons why breakfast is "the most important meal of the day". It is also a blood sugar thing - if it is low, as it can be after a fast, the body cires out for food.

Evolved or created - we really are created to ensure the survival of the species. We are the first generation where the availability of food involves much less expenditure of calories that it provides. Food is meant to cost us in calorie expenditure - to get milk, don't just open the bottle - chase the cow, get it to stand still, milk the cow, carry the heavy bucket back to the house, and then do whatever you have to do to use the milk - make butter (beat the cream for 30 minutes), or make cheese. Just think of the amount of energy that went into making a loaf of bread... It was a wonderful food to have.

these days we can get a high calorie meal delivered to the door, and it costs us almost no calories - get out of the seat in front of the television and answer the door.

No wonder we are obese.

Janet Woodlock said…

I've been reading the old "Famous Five" books (Enid Blyton) to my children, and have noticed all those "plump and jolly" characters written about.

It strikes me as a bit bizarre just as we've created an environment where it's easy to gain weight (most people have sedentary jobs, use cars for transport... and processed high kilojoule convenience foods are cheap and accessible) that thin has become the ideal of beauty. No wonder so many people feel conflicted about this.

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