Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

During my sophomore year of college I learned about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. At the time, it didn’t interest me all that much. In fact, the whole theory seemed like a no-brainer to me. And as for that whole notion of “self-actualization”… let’s just say it didn’t really speak to my 20 year old self.

But little did I know that Mr. Maslowin’s theory would come back to serve an important perspective in the way that I work and how I teach my clients about food and eating. For those of you not familiar with the theory it teaches us that we have a variety of needs for healthy and appropriate development. They are depicted hierarchically in pyramid fashion with the most fundamental and important needs at the bottom. Maslow’s theory suggests that the most basic level of needs must be met before the individual will focus energy or desire for higher level needs. So if his theory holds true, it’s more important to secure food and shelter before forming relationships and sexual intimacy.

With this theory in mind, I have some questions for you to ponder.

1. What shall we do with cultural messages that tell us we need to “earn our food” through extreme exercise in order to have permission to eat? According to Maslow it’s not earned but a right as humans.

2. What happens to our self-esteem if our minds are perpetually stuck in obsessing about food (which is considered a lower level need)?
3. Can we form healthy relationships if we are denying ourselves our basic rights (such as food) through dieting?

I believe that forming a healthy, balanced, secure relationship to food and your body is imperative. Living at war with food and your body can disrupt your ability to meet your higher level needs like healthy self-esteem, creative thinking, and forming relationships. Now THAT is a pretty big deal. . What do you think?


  1. I LOVE that you wrote about this! 🙂 I’ve thought a lot about the hierarchy of needs in my recovery, because I’ve finally realized that fueling my body is the foundation for everything I want to achieve in my life. It’s funny because Maslow’s theory should

    be a no-brainer like your 20-year-old self thought- in a perfect world everyone would intuitively make their physiological needs their first priority- and I think it says something profound and disturbing about the state of our culture that so many people

    believe it’s possible to sacrifice lower level needs and still achieve health, happiness, and success.

  2. Thanks Jess! I appreciate your thoughts. So important to take really good care of ourselves. You may want to check out the!

  3. It’s interesting (in an ironic sort of way) that many people seem to believe that if they DENY themselves food, the higher levels of the pyramid will fall into place…how many times have I heard that “dieting –> happiness and fulfillment”? I would argue

    that the happiest, most wholly integrated individuals I know ALSO happen to feed themselves without guilt and with a healthy dose of pleasure!

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