I am a foodie. I live to eat. I love food so much I’d spend an hour walking the streets of Lucca in the rain looking for a place that looks just right and offers the best orecchiette al ragu. And food is my ultimate comfort: I’d frequently polish off an entire bag of cashew nuts as I am dealing with a stressful issue at work and then console myself with a chocolate bar on a rainy day. This Valentine’s Day it was a dark chocolate Lindt with wasabi… Yes, well, at least it was pure dark chocolate!
So it’s the emotional relationship with food that I’d like to explore here. And I don’t mean it’s necessarily a bad thing either. Food is something so intimately linked with family traditions that the first emotion that springs to mind is love. My grandmother used to make this sweet salad for me grating carrots very finely by hand, adding mixed nuts, raisins and chopped dried apricots, then letting it all soak up a bit before serving this delicious simple treat I now frequently make myself, grating carrots more coarsely and usually using a food processor… But this salad will always be associated for me with my grandmother, who was grating carrots for her granddaughter at the age of 80 with all her love and affection.
My friend Simone recently published a book of her favourite recipes, Simone’s Kitchen Secrets. Most recipes are associated with people she loves: a Valentine curry, the first ever dish she cooked for her husband, madeleines she likes to bake for her goddaughter Madeleine, beetroot-marinated salmon she traditionally makes for her family every Christmas. Every recipe is a story, every treat is a joy, every dish is supercharged with emotional goodness.
But yesterday on my way home I sat next to a woman mindlessly eating a bag of chips from the Chicken Cottage. At that point of time she did not think about pleasing the palate or nutritional values. She was upset or anxious or bored. I know that feeling, I am frequently comforting myself with food myself. You may have the best intentions , stock up your fridge with expensive organic ingredients, cook meals from scratch and avoid complex carbs in the restaurants but there comes a moment and emotions overwhelm reason. A healthy snack just would not do. And then comes guilt…
This emotional eating habit is often ingrained from childhood: you often see kids being pacified with sweets or crisps. This soothing power of food stays with us on a sub-conscious level. And some of us become highly dependent on the emotional rewards food affords us, but only in the short term.
So what am I trying to say here? It’s OK. Nutritionists and psychologists say that the first step in overcoming the negative habit of emotional eating is to recognise it. They also agree that it’s the reasonable, small goals that are most likely to be achieved so here I am saying that I don’t always eat just because I am hungry. I am making a confession that I comfort eat and hopefully next time I’ll recognise the false urgency of my cravings and take a deep breath before reaching out for that instantly comforting but ultimately false friend.