Sometimes we turn to food to help us get through the day.
Sometimes we turn to food to help us get through the day. monkeybusinessimages

Eating healthy, or being in control?

vanessa.horstman

LIVING NATURALLY with Olwen Anderson

FOOD plays so many roles: to relieve your hunger, to replenish your body and keep your brain functioning.

Sometimes food is what helps your family get together for big events like weddings, birthdays, celebrations and funerals. And sometimes food can play a role in your life that's less than helpful: like propping you up emotionally, or, curiously, providing a sense of control.

The latter might seem a little unusual, but this is something you might notice yourself or someone else doing. When life seems out of control, it's natural to try and regain some sense that you have it all managed, really.

You look around for what you can control in your life, because there's so much happening that you can't control. Aha, here's something: food. Women, and young women in particular, seem particularly susceptible to using food to regain a sense of control. But males can get caught up in it too.

For example, let's say that something has happened in your life to make you feel quite uncertain about your future. Maybe there's talk of redundancies at work. Or your relationship seems to be disintegrating. It's human nature to look for ways to bring life back under control. So you might decide it's time to 'eat clean', turn vegan or vegetarian, or arbitrarily exclude a particular food group. Whatever you choose, when you're seeking control there will be rules to follow.

Adhering to these rigid rules about food can give you an awesome sense of control over your life but, over time, also has the potential for creating a malnourished body and a soul devoid of social connection. With rigid food rules, it can be difficult to eat out because the cafe menu might not comply with your food restrictions. Invitations to join friends or relatives at their homes for a meal might soon disappear as people worry that you'd disapprove of their food (if you've ever had a dinner guest who wasn't able to eat anything that you prepared you know how awful that feels).

And yet, when there's stress in your life, you need the social support to help you through the emotional upheaval. So if you find you're suddenly interested in following a restrictive diet, and you've been experiencing extra stress it could be time to check in with yourself: is following this diet really more about regaining a sense of control than eating healthy?

* Olwen Anderson is a naturopath and counsellor and a columnist with the Tweed Daily News. Contact her at www.olwenanderson.com.au