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Narry a week goes by when I don’t hear a mention from clients or students about feeing deprived around food: they didn’t eat something they wanted and spent the rest of the day angry and resentful or, fearing they’d feel deprived, they caved in and ate when they weren’t hungry. Concerns about deprivation run rampant through struggles to eat “normally.” Or they fought feeling deprived by pretending they didn’t care about the food in the first place.
Feeling deprived around food is generally about far more than eating. However, sometimes it does come from a childhood in which you were often hungry or had little food choice. Maybe your family couldn’t afford large amounts of food or lacked the time or resources to vary meals very much. Fewer choices (or none at all) may have left you feeling deprived of options and perhaps nutrients as well. Or maybe family members were quicker than you at serving themselves and chowing down, leaving you with an empty stomach or their leftovers. Maybe you vowed that when you became an adult, you’d never deny yourself a morsel and now when you try to say no, you feel as if you’re not getting your fair share. On the other hand, maybe you’re so used to being deprived that now, even when you can eat whatever you want, you continue to deny yourself enough food or the treats you desire.
Sadly, we can’t make up for the past in the present. On some level, this is what deprivation is all about, especially when we eat something now that we’re not hungry for or really don’t crave—as if the experience of having enough or enough-plus now can erase having less or nothing in childhood. We feel deprivation on an emotional level; it makes us angry, helpless, and irrational and prevents us from effective decision-making around food. But how can polishing off the rest of your birthday cake now ever make up for not having had one when you were a child? How can refusing to eat now and pretending you don’t want to ever heal not getting the food you wanted growing up?
To resolve issues of deprivation, start with identifying the feeling. When you’re angry or defiant around food, ask yourself if you might be feeling deprived. Tip offs are saying to yourself, “I deserve…” or “It’s not fair…” Rather than focus on food in these moments, reach into yourself for what you really feel deprived of—choice, satisfaction, variety, richness, pleasure, and/or comfort. Under deprivation might be sadness, helplessness, fear, frustration, or confusion. Then use that information to give yourself what you really need to make you feel satisfied and well nourished.
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