Saturday, March 3, 2012

Causes Of Food Abuse

One of the principal reasons that people abuse food is that they are connecting food with certain emotional satisfactions. It is quite possible, for example for food to symbolize food. Therefore, someone who feels unloved often turns to food as a substitute for love. Associated with this is the fact that food can provide a degree of erotic gratification. In terms of psychosexual development, its first stage is often identified as oral. In infancy and toddlerhood, eating, biting, sucking, and chewing are very important. Individuals who lack adequate genital gratification as adults may find themselves returning to earlier levels of psychosexual development in a search for at least some erotic pleasure.

However, it should be noted that the wish to eat often arises in the face of almost any emotional lack. Depression, anxiety, anger and boredom are common causal factors in food abuse. In the case of depression, the activity of eating provides a bright moment when one has the 'blues' or the 'blahs'. In the case of anxiety, food often acts as a natural tranquilizer by activating the parasympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system and lowering arousal. In the case of anger, eating provides the biting and chewing that people often feel like doing when they are in a rage. In the case of boredom, eating is simply something to do.

Food abuse is sometimes related to family style. There are 'fat families' in which the parents and the children all abuse food. In such cases the children have 'permission' from the parents to overeat and also to be obese (as it is ok to be fat). In some cases, parents even 'push' food to children as a way of proving that they love their children and also as a way of validating their own obesity or food abuse. 

Maladaptive habits play a significant role in food abuse. A habit is an unthinking pattern of behaviour. 'Bad' habits are those that tend, in the long run, to work against a person's best interests even though they may provide momentary gratification. A person with bad habits of eating snacks and ice-cream every night before sleeping is an example. These kinds of bad habits are common, and they tend to have a momentum all their own. Such habits bring pleasure, and they are hard to break because their constant repetition gives them 'habit strength'.

A tendency toward hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), can be a contributing cause to food abuse. If one has a tendency toward hypoglycemia, he or she will frequently feel sluggish, fatigued, lacking in alertness. This is because a given meal may not sustain the blood sugar at an optimal level for the four-to-six-hour intervals between meals. A 'quick fix' for the problem is to eat candy bars, ice-creams, and so on.

A final contributing cause to food abuse is in the case of anorexia nervosa. A common contributing cause to the problem is a power struggle within the family. An analysis can be applied to unmarried adolescent females who live at home. Parents are naturally concerned with their daughter's unwillingness to eat and her consequent emaciation. They recognize that the behaviour is unhealthy. If they are somewhat overcontroling and authoritarian, they will insist in a harsh and directive way that she eat. The adolescent, on the other hand, is fighting the battle of autonomy. She wants to be in control of her own life and does not want to be told what to do. A psychological tug-of-war takes place, and 'winning' to the adolescent means not eating and following her own dictates.

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