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Our Complicated Relationship with Food

Joan Bender on Why Foods Matters

by Martin Miron

Joan Bender, owner of Food & Mood Coaching LLC
Joan Bender, owner of Food & Mood Coaching LLC

Joan Bender, owner of Food & Mood Coaching LLC, in Delmar, is a certified health coach, licensed mental health counselor and author of the children’s book The Great Veggie Monster Mystery. She helps people to eat healthier and more mindfully, and to understand the connections between the foods they eat and how they feel.

Why does food matter?

Food is essential to life and needed for survival. It gives us energy. It builds our cells, bones, skin and other bodily organs and tissue. Depending on what we eat, it can help support and balance hormones, blood sugar and the immune system. However, it can also throw those things out of balance and directly affect how we feel and function.

Can food affect our mental and emotional health?

Absolutely, food and people’s relationship to food is a fascinating web of experiences. That’s why changing eating habits can be so difficult. These experiences go back to before we were born. We know that the foods that a pregnant woman eats flavor amniotic fluid and breast milk, and that this can influence taste and food preferences in babies before they are even aware of what they are eating.

Then, from birth on, food becomes a huge part of our life story. It gets connected to our emotions, physiological sensations and chemical reactions in our bodies. We develop favorite foods and foods we don’t like. Memories about our food become a part of our story. We are described by our caretakers as things like a good eater, a finicky eater, a skinny baby or a chunky baby.

Maybe we are taught to share food or maybe we are taught that it is scarce and we should hoard it or eat it fast before someone else does. We can get into power struggles around food when our parents want us to eat something we don’t want to eat or when we want to eat something that our parents don’t want us to. As we get older, we become influenced by commercials and foods that our friends eat or what’s available to us in the college dorm or the vending machine. Our food becomes connected to table conversations, memories, family traditions, stress, happy feelings, sad feelings or angry feelings. Over time, all kinds of patterns can develop and become a web of thoughts, feelings and behaviors around food.

How would you interpret the phrase, “Eat food from a green plant, not a concrete plant?”

How food is raised or grown is extremely important. Our bodies were designed to be able to process, and by that I mean digest, absorb, assimilate and eliminate, certain things, and those things come from in the Earth as plants, nuts, seeds and animals. When we start to alter those things by breaking them down into parts, processing them, combining them with other things or adding synthetic and artificial ingredients that were made in a lab or a factory, our bodies have difficulty recognizing what they are, and therefore have a difficult time processing this “food.”

When food isn’t processed by the body properly, we can become ill and disease can set in. There is also a chain effect, or cumulative effect. By that I mean that the food that we eat was once living, it had to eat, too, in order for it to survive and be healthy; therefore, it is important for our food to have eaten good-quality food so that we can get the most nutrition from it.

Because food plays such a huge role from the beginning, do you have any tips for helping children to eat healthy?

Children get their cues from their parents, so how a parent responds to particular foods can impact their kids. I often hear parents talk about how their child will only eat a certain amount and not any more, no matter how much they try to coax them, or that their child will only eat certain foods. Trust that your child is listening to internal cues about how much and what types of foods their bodies are calling for.

One exception to this rule might be sugary sweets that can trigger cravings for more. Try to limit those as much as possible. Kids also go through phases were they only want to eat their favorite things. Be patient, offer a variety of foods and encourage children to try new things. When kids see their parents trying new foods with interest and curiosity, they are more likely to experiment with trying new foods too.

Prepare foods in a variety of fun and colorful ways and involve children in the preparation of food. It might take a little longer, but it teaches them good life skills. Children between the ages of 3 and 7 tend to be very curious and love to help. They enjoy stirring, measuring and experimenting with foods and cooking.

Food & Mood Coaching is located at 323 Delaware Ave., 2nd fl., in Delmar. For more information, call 518-461-9507 or visit jbenderwellness.com.

This article appeared in the September 2016 issue of Natural Awakenings Magazine. Click to read more.

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