Is food a symbol of love? Is food a substitute for love? Do we feel loved and needed when we prepare favorite foods for our family? Does our family feel loved as they enjoy the food we prepared? Let’s think about some of the roles that food plays in our lives.
Babies feel loved when fed
Babies, while drinking their first food, feel warm, protected, peaceful, sated and …wait for it… LOVED!
Oxytocin is produced in the brain of the infant while drinking his milk. Skin and eye contact with the parent also promotes, among other positive feelings a bonding while baby drinks from his bottle or from mother’s breast. So pretty much at birth an association is created between food and love. Feeding time is also a time of having a parent’s complete attention/love.
Toddlers learn mental and sensory stimulation
As the baby becomes a toddler he begins to eat textured, multi flavored foods and begin to explore his food. All of the developing senses are stimulated by the smell, colors, taste, and feel of food on his hands and face.
Also the toddler brain is stimulated as he learns the names for foods and learns to match the tastes that go with those names and textures.
While being cute as they play and explore food, they receive the total attention from their parents which also helps with bonding and promoting social development.
Youngsters Get a Break After School
Young students are often hungry, tired, bored or frustrated after a long day at school. They just spent the whole day at the mercy of their teachers, classmates, and all of the stressors associated with school.
What happens when they get home? (I realize everyone’s after school time is different depending on their home life, parent’s work situations, interactions with siblings and family dynamics.) But after school most kids are hungry, right? They want to “drown out the “droning” of the A”BEE”C’s; stop the drilling of math tables; in short they want to disconnect from the whole school thing for a little while, at least.
My mother always had an after school snack of cookies and milk or some other sweet thing that buoyed our spirits above the drowning waves of school. We felt loved.
A nutritious or a sweet snack provided a balm for the wounded feelings, diversion from frustrations, and sensory stimulation to combat the brain overload of education.
Perhaps while the kids are still young, one of the parents, asks about their day. Again food is a time of bonding, feeling warm, protected, peaceful, sated and…you got it! ..LOVED.
Teenagers still need some food/love.
Food, family and life changes when the kids become teenagers. After school the teen goes to activities with friends and may grab their own snack on the way home.
Then there is supper, perhaps not always the best time to relate to each other, especially when teenagers want their privacy, or one or both parents work. So now eating may become just a matter of taking in nutrition. Hopefully it is sometimes still a time for family fellowship, depending on the emotional dynamics of the family.
As An Adult
What is the first thing you want as an adult when you feel depressed, unloved, unappreciated, or bored? Something chocolate or sweet or even salty? Some resort to smoking, drinking, drugs or other routes of oral stimulation/ relaxation. All of us looking for that feeling of being loved, appreciated, or stimulated. (Where did that come from?)
Perhaps these routes are not the best way to deaden the depression, feeling of loneliness or of being unappreciated. Now what sensations did food provide an infant: love, warmth, feeling protected, peacefulness, and bonding?
Have you ever been bored and craved some special food? Okay think about the effects of food on a toddler: stimulation of senses. Hmm, seeing a pattern?
Now For The Parents
Both parents get a hit of oxytocin just from the sight, smell, skin and eye contact with their babies. The mother gets her milk flowing and the uterus tightens while breast feeding. Oxytocin is also released when hugging or affectionate behavior is present. So giving of food is associated with affection, warmth, and love for the adults as well.
When the children are young and the parents want to cheer them up with something that says, “I love you,” what do parents often do? They make cookies, go out for supper, serve ice cream, or some other confection. The parents may get a jolt of “love” from the appreciation of their kids.
As the Kids Move Out
As the kids become adults and move to college or their own homes, the parent may begin to feel relief or they may start feeling a sense of loss from being needed by their “children.”
When the adult “kids”come home for a visit, what does the parent often do? They want to feed their kids something.
For me feeding them something special brought back a feeling of nurturing and being needed. Do the warm and fuzzy feelings of being the “mommy” or daddy” return, even though the kids are adults now?
Hopefully all the parenting we did when our kids were little stuck and the kids remembered vaguely the feeling of warmth, love, and bonding that took place when we fed them as babies and on through their life.
We, like them, received oxytocin into our bloodstream making us feel all warm and fuzzy when we watched them drink their milk, learn to eat and taste food, refresh themselves after school, and hopefully we enjoyed their company as they grew up at the breakfast or dinner table.
Think about this: When our grown daughter or son moves out on their own and we worry about how healthily they are eating, and try to give them food to take home with them. (Well I did, I don’t know about everyone else.) Are we trying to tell them they still need us? Or are we trying to regain that feeling of being needed by our child again?
I realize some of this is over-simplification. But it kind of makes sense as a few examples of how important food is to us above its nutritional value. Think about what role food plays in your life, the lives of your children, be they little or adult.