Maybe I was watching too much Oprah, but it seemed like I kept hearing it: The morbidly obese saying they gained weight because they used food to comfort themselves. I felt like it was being chanted, by a very large chorus, “Food was my comfort. Food was my comfort.”
But I use food to comfort myself.
As my children got older, my drug of choice would change — Lindt Touch of Sea Salt Dark Chocolate, my friend Heather’s homemade cookies, Butterfinger Flurries — but the ritual stayed the same. Each evening I got my reward for a long day of work and for (expectantly) a long, sleepless night.
But after awhile, every time I would flop myself onto the couch and eat some luscious Hershey’s Kisses, these guilty feelings began creeping in. Even though I am not overweight, I worried: Am I headed down the wrong path? Am I slipping, one pound at a time, into being so large I can’t get off the couch? I looked that Hershey’s Kiss right in the eye: Will this Kiss be the one that leads me into a lifetime of diabetes and early death?
The guilt would lessen the pleasure from the chocolate, so I would need a few more to get the high.
I was in a dilemma, until one day when I was nursing my newborn and he rolled his eyes into the back of his head in sheer pleasure from the milk. At that moment, it dawned on me: If food wasn’t for comfort, your very first food wouldn’t taste like honey and come from your mom. It would not be given to you while you are held in someone’s arms and adored. Breast milk, I decided, is the ultimate comfort food.
I wondered how it would be at night if I were wrapped up in someone’s warm arms being spoon-fed honey-milk while being adored. (I’m willing to try.)
Isn’t food supposed to be a comfort? Why else would nature make your first food so sweet and warm and wonderful?
Where did we go wrong?
Now that obesity is the No. 1 cause of premature death in America, should we no longer allow ourselves to find pleasure in the taste of food?
I understand the deadly consequences, but pushing guilt is not the answer. I am sick of feeling guilty because of society’s agenda (lest I say the insurance companies’ agenda). We have attacked the symptom, not the cause. Pain and loneliness, unresolved wounds and fear of rejection cause people to wrap themselves up in a blanket of fat as protection from the outside world.
Don’t make people who eat when they feel bad about themselves feel guiltier. That just escalates the problem. I feel the same way about anti-smoking campaigns. Think of the kids who want to smoke: the anti-social kids who are trying to be scary and cool. The more dangerous you make smoking, the cooler it is to the prime target: that 16-year-old trying to make an impact. (Maybe this is why tobacco companies pay for their own anti-smoking ads.)
We should be pushing pleasure, not guilt. We should be educating people on the joy of a good meal: homemade bread, ripe fruit, fresh vegetables, stinky cheese.
Vegetables used to taste yummy before they became overprocessed, good-looking, bad-tasting mealy balls of pesticide. I bet some kids have never tasted a good vegetable. We are a society that values looks over taste, which makes no sense. Why do we keep buying these bright red tomatoes that are rock hard and white in the middle?
Food is supposed to be pleasurable. It should be savored, not crammed down one’s throat. Relishing each bite does not work with preservative-laced fast food. The slower you eat it, the more you can feel the burn from the chemicals in the back of your mouth. (You’re trained to quickly slurp down some soda in order to kill the aftertaste.)
Maybe if we indulged our pleasures without guilt, if we feasted with family and friends and took great ritual in enjoying healthy food together, we wouldn’t need that extra bite to get the high.
Note: Some Reese’s Pieces were killed in the making of this column.