Most overeaters feel that they lack will power and motivation in their attempts to lose weight. They must become aware that food has symbolic meanings, most often hidden from conscious awareness. Such understanding is an important element in helping the compulsive eater come to grips with the psychological difficulties in losing weight. Consider the following alternative meanings which obese persons, and others with eating disorders, have unconsciously assigned to food:
1. Food as a substitute for love withheld or denied.
2. Food as a sustenance that fills the void of loneliness and absent but longed-for social relationships.
3. Food as a substitute for the absent childhood nurturance by family and significant others.
4. Food as part of an extended eating activity to postpone or prevent involvement in anxiety producing academic, social and professional activity. (It is used as the ultimate instrument of procrastination.)
5. Food as a reward for a job well done where meaningful reward is absent.
6. Food as consolation and solace for every kind of loss and any kind of defeat.
7. Food as a way to minimize stress.
8. Food as instant gratification when the attainment of life’s goals appears to be very far away.
9. Food as an instrument of revenge and rebellion against a parent or spouse who has applied what is perceived to be unreasonable pressure or enforced unreasonably high standards.
10. Food as a method for pushing down a range of unacceptable feelings causing the repression of either hate, anger, sexuality, and rage, as well as the fear of death and dying.
Just knowing that you eat because of anger or boredom is not enough to make changes. If this partial list of the symbolic meaning of food does not convince you of the need for understanding the hidden or deeper meanings we give to food, then consider reading the forthcoming article on the symbolic meaning of fat.