We need food in order to survive but we also need food for many other complex social and psychological reasons. As children, our parents and those that cared for us showed us how to relate to food on a daily basis. They imprinted us with a subconscious understanding of food that goes way beyond mere physical survival. Children are often rewarded, punished and controlled through food. Pacifying children with food when they’re upset leads to an adult connection to food as emotional comforter – hence ‘comfort eating’. Phrases such as ‘think of the starving children in Africa’, ‘eat your greens or you won’t get any pudding’, ‘do as I tell you or you’ll go to bed without any supper’, ‘be a good girl and you can have a sweetie’, ‘let’s celebrate by going for pizza/ice cream/MacDonald’s’ all lead to adult associations that dislocate us from our real, physiological need for food. As adults our food choices are usually driven by habit and emotion rather than by a physiological need for better energy and a strong immune system.
Food often brings us together socially and is used as an expression of love and care. Birthday cakes, anniversary meals and Christmas dinner are all about coming together, with celebration expressed through the food we make. If you eat differently from others it can often lead to a feeling of exclusion and loneliness. Humans are naturally social creatures wanting to be part of a tribe. Even when we know that certain foods are really good for us, habit and the need to feel included will keep us eating food that we know isn’t good for us and depletes our energy.
When I first started eating raw food I struggled with letting go of my food-related self-identity. I believed I’d never be slim. I identified myself as a great cook and foodie, someone who expressed their love through making delicious cookies and cakes. My life revolved around the next thing I would eat – I was a comfort eater and an over-eater. I was someone who loved rich food and couldn’t stick to a diet. I identified myself as someone who had no self-discipline with food because I knew certain foods, such as sugar and wheat, made me feel worse but I still ate them anyway. I rewarded myself with donuts and ice cream. I punished myself by over-eating and then hating myself.
When I began to feel the positive effects of eating raw, I was brought face to face with my identity around food. It gave me the perfect opportunity (and one I’m still using) to allow my self-identity to shift and change as I grew in myself. I began to identify myself as slim (something I thought I’d never do). I began eating whatever I wanted (raw and cooked) without punishing myself. I became more disciplined around food without becoming fanatical. Food was no longer on my mind all the time.
Changing your identity around food and how you eat can allow you to change how you perceive yourself in many other ways too. Raw food not only affects how good you feel in yourself. It can also affect the way that you show up in the world and how you present yourself.