Myra Lewin is the author of Freedom in Your Relationship with Food: an Everyday Guide. She is also a professional mediator, a minister in The Church of Aesclepion Healing, an organic farmer and a creative Ayurvedic cook.
Destructive Eating Habits and Addiction: Interview with Myra Lewin
LTK: How would you define a food addiction?
Myra Lewin: Addiction is often defined as being overly attached to a particular habit or substance. Food addiction involves an obsessive drive to consume food in ways that go against one's natural instincts for health. Some examples are spending time in one's head planning to eat "naughty foods", obsessing about when the next meal comes, thinking about food as a reward, repeatedly overeating to the point of feeling sick or eating excessive amounts of a particular food. It has become common in our culture to use food and other substances to avoid emotions and feelings. Food addiction develops as a result of this disconnection from our emotions and feelings.
Since we all have to eat, it can be difficult to distinguish when the line is crossed into addiction. Only the individual can really decide that there is a problem. At that point, real change is possible. There is a saying in addiction recovery, "People who don't have a problem don't have to think about not doing. They just don't do it."
Self-Destructive Eating Habits Defined
LTK: What are self-destructive eating habits?
Myra Lewin: A habit is something we do repeatedly that eventually becomes unconscious. When eating habits are geared toward altering one's state of mind, it is a sign of an underlying problem. Eating is something each person has control over. Self-destructive habits are often rooted in a feeling of not having control over one's life and self loathing. Harmful and distorted attitudes toward food and eating are just a symptom of these types of problems.
LTK: Is there a process where someone slips into an unhealthy relationship with food?
Myra Lewin: Yes, there are many destructive approaches to eating in western culture. Practices such as eating on the run, eating junk food and eating all day long rather than on a schedule are just a few that cultivate unconsciousness around the process eating. These actions and attitudes cultivate disconnection from our innermost Self, that part of consciousness within us that is connected to nature, others and all that exsists. We become unconscious. We then look for things on the outside to cover up the feeling of disconnection. When the primary purpose of eating is about distraction and filling an internal void rather than nourishing our body, the relationship is heading in an unhealthy direction.
This doesn't mean that the state of mind is not changed by eating. It certainly can be. Many of us can get grumpy when we are hungry and feel better after eating. When we consciously eat fresh, lovingly prepared food on a regular schedule, our state of mind is enhanced by the increase in our vitality.
Signs of Unhealthy Relationship with Food
LTK: What are the signs of an unhealthy relationship with food?
Myra Lewin: Our relationship with food becomes unhealthy when we use it to manipulate ourselves or others. To manipulate ourselves with food means using food to try to feel happier, to have fun or to stimulate feelings that have nothing to do with the actual purpose of eating. Providing food as a reward for good behavior with children or ourselves creates a similar pattern. Eating a particular food because it brings us "comfort" is a sign of moving in an unhealthy direction with food. If this happens once in five years, perhaps there is no problem. However, if it occurs regularly, the attitude of trying to avoid or fix something with the food can cultivate physical and mental disturbance. This approach will often lead to self-destructive eating.
When eating becomes habitual and unconscious, there are consequences that are often not associated with poor eating habits. Have you ever eaten something and not really remembered doing it? Eating in front of the television or computer, while driving a car, standing up or reading are all activities that divide our attention. Eating in these situations is unconscious, usually too fast and without enough chewing for healthy digestion. The result is weakened digestion leading to diminished immunity and disease.
Recently while giving a talk to college students, a young woman said she eats chocolate whenever she feels sad, and it makes her feel better. I asked her how she felt an hour later or the next morning, and she looked at me with a confused face. She had no idea that what she ate had anything to do with how she would feel in an hour or two or the next morning. This disconnection from our innate knowing of what is best for us grows with manipulative unconscious eating.
Getting Professional Help
LTK: Can someone with a food addiction or self-destructive eating habits make positive changes by themselves or should they seek professional help?
Myra Lewin: It can be difficult for people to make significant changes without some guidance and or sharing with others. Operating in a vacuum, isolated in our own thinking, is what took us to the problem in the first place. The imbalance that leads to self-destructive eating habits or food addiction distorts other parts of our thinking as well. We must take stock of our beliefs and behaviors and shake things up a bit in order to set out on a better path. This can happen successfully with various types of guidance such as support groups, twelve-step groups, counselors or health practitioners. Many aspects of our lives beyond diet benefit from changes in our relationship with food.
Ayurveda is a holistic basis for living that provides an approach to diet, lifestyle and medicine that is quite natural and contoured for the individual's needs. It considers everything that goes into creating our well-being.
LTK: Is there anything else you would like to add about food addictions or self-destructive eating habits?
Myra Lewin: Yes, avoid eating when you're angry or feeling emotionally disturbed. Our ability to digest the food effectively is significantly diminished. When we are not able to digest food easily, the body can only turn it into metabolic toxins. Best to wait and eat later when the emotions have settled down.
Our relationship with food is an indicator of our willingness and ability to digest all that life offers us. I have only seen healthy long-term change when awareness of food and eating is considered as a part of a spiritual way of living; meaning, with a foundation of connection to our innermost self.
The purpose of food is to nourish our body, mind and connection to ourselves. We can enjoy it as well. We feel the best when we give the process of eating our full attention. Here are a few simple things that will maximize digestion, nutrient assimilation and enjoyment of food: p
- Prepare our own food as often as possible.
- Engage all of our senses in the food preparation and process of eating.
- Sit down in a calm environment.
- Offer a blessing or prayer to all who have brought the food, and offer appreciation to the earth, sun and all that is.
We are meant to be happy and filled with joy. A healthy relationship with food is a significant step to joyous living.
LoveToKnow would like to thank Myra Lewin for sharing her thoughts about destructive eating habits and addiction with our readers. LTK readers are invited to visit Ms. Lewin online at MauiYogaandAyurveda.org.