Dieting as deprivation

by tamarjacobson

For years I have understood that there is an emotional connection between me and my hunger. I am sometimes just physically hungry, but often my hunger is connected to emotions – like anger, boredom, or loneliness. Lately I have realized that dieting feels like deprivation, and, in fact, I become quite anxious – even panicked – when I diet.


I notice that I don’t seem to feel that way when I deprive myself of clothes, going to the theater, museums, books, or any material possessions really. My greatest source of delight comes with going out for breakfast or dinner. It feels as if I am being rewarded for something. Food, therefore, equals love. I remember when my son started making his own sandwiches for school. I felt lonely and deprived for days until I understood that I was not needed for providing his sustenance – I equated food for love then too. I remember the warmth and happiness I felt when I ate with my nanny and the other servants on our back porch when I was a child in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). We sat on the floor and ate sadza out of a large pot, dipping balls of it we had rolled in our hands into the thick, warm gravy accompanied by tough, tasty chunks of beef. We washed our hands in bowls of water that were passed between us keeping our hands clean for each new sadza ball we created. I would listen as they talked back and forth – at times understanding their language and at others it did not matter. The atmosphere was kind and welcoming. I felt safe out there, and wanted. No one watched or commented on how much or what I ate, how dry or curly my hair was, or how much I talked.

It is hard to pin point immediately the feelings of emotional deprivation. It creeps up on me when I least expect it. And so, I am starting to take note of how it feels – holding still in the moment just experiencing the sensations: a little anxiety; my body and especially the pit of my stomach feels cold and empty; lonely; afraid and a little panicked; and, yes, it feels like a gaping hole in my soul. The fact is, food calms those sensations for a short while, and I even feel comforted momentarily, but, in fact, the hole never, ever really fills up from eating a juicy chicken leg or just one more soft, sweet stroopwafel.

I love psychological revelations. While they never actually fix the problems, awareness does give me another option – an opportunity to choose reactions or behaviors, when I am feeling less vulnerable. It is not easy staying in touch with our earliest emotional memories, because we have repressed them for good reason at the time when they might have represented real danger.

I can’t help but turn back to my most favorite book: Appetites: Why Women Want, and remember just how complex is the subject of food, love, desire, culture and how I fit in – or fit it all in before I cut back on portions, and eat healthy again:

Being known. This, of course, is the goal, the agenda so carefully hidden it may be unknown to the self … the extremes announce, This is who I am, this is what I feel, this is what happens when I don’t get what I need … In quadrophonic sound they give voice to the most central human hunger, which is the desire to be recognized, to be known and loved because of, and in spite of, who you are; they give voice to the sorrow that takes root when that hunger is unsatisfied. (Page 175)