Guest Post: Food as Connection

Today we have the pleasure from hearing from guest blogger Ashley Solomon, PsyD. Ashley is a therapist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, body image, trauma, and serious mental illness. Please check out her fabulous blog Nourishing the SoulNourishing the Soul is a look at how our relationship with food can become distorted when our minds, bodies, and souls are not properly nourished. This blog provides a forum for discussion of these distortions, as well as offers news and views on the latest in the field of disordered eating, recovery, and healthy living. You can also follow her on Twitter @nourishthesoul. Enjoy the post!

Food as Connection: Guidelines for shared meals
Stacey hadn’t eaten a meal with other people in almost three years. The thought of having someone else bear witness to her eating patterns and food rituals was overwhelming and terrifying to her, which made eating with twelve other women in her treatment program all the more painful. While she was consumed with anxiety at the first meal, each one became easier. And what Stacey discovered was that there was something incredibly intimate about sharing food with someone else. Something she hadn’t let herself experience – and had missed – for far too long.

While Stacey’s story may seem extreme, many among us can identify with anxiety around sharing meals. Perhaps we are worry that we eat too much, that our food choices are not healthy enough – or are too healthy, or simply that we hate having to talk while eating. In my work as a therapist who works with eating disorders, fears around shared meals come up often.

Eating with others is inherently connecting. I’m sure, if we tried, we could explain this phenomenon from an evolutionary standpoint – something about cave-people joining together in pursuit of the day’s sustenance or whatnot. But the fact is, sharing meals is an integral part of human relatedness. We “break bread” as a sign of intimacy, of respect, of love.

For people who struggle with eating issues, meals that are shared might need some guidelines to feel safe and at ease. Consider the following suggestions for making meals with friends and family more comfortable for everyone:

Choose a Comfortable Setting – If you’re feeling anxious about a shared meal, consider how to make the environment most comfortable. Do you prefer to go to a restaurant or invite others to your home? Do you want something more formal with courses or for everyone to dig into to shared appetizers? If you’re going out, what kind of setting makes it easiest to talk and converse?

Share the Love – Encourage everyone to contribute to the meal so that it feels like a joint effort. Don’t take on all of the cooking responsibilities yourself, nor let someone else. Sharing in the creation of the meal is part of the bonding experience and can help everyone feel a sense of ownership.

Avoid Food or Fat Talk – While at the table, stay away from talking about the food. This can be challenging, as you might see if you try it. It’s amazing how much of our mealtime conversation often centers around food. But think of how much richer the discussion can be if we explore topics other than the spiciness of the enchilada. Also avoid talking about the nutritional aspects of the food or about weight. It’s hard to enjoy a meal when your friend is telling you how what she’s eating (the same as you!) is going straight to her thighs.

Say No – It’s important to use your voice when your heart or stomach – is telling you so. Remember that you can politely say, “No, thank you,” to more macaroni if you’re too full – Aunt Sally will just have to get over it. You should also speak up if the conversation is making you uncomfortable.

Developing comfort in sharing meals can not only help to reduce disordered eating, but can add so much meaning to our lives. Bon Appetite!