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An Emotional Eating Lesson Inspired by Tony Soprano - Part One

The other day I was watching a rerun of The Sopranos. Early in the episode, Tony said something incredibly cruel to AJ his 14-year-old son. Then at the end of the episode, Tony walked into AJ's bedroom with a Pizza. He gave a very heartfelt apology, opened the pizza box, and offered AJ a slice.

Although this is an Italian mob family, the way food was used is similar to the way my family used it when I was growing up. What about yours? For many cultures, food can be the most powerful symbol of love that exists for them. Especially in families where emotions are not expressed openly, food can be the major, if not the only, symbol of love that connects the family.

Tony going into AJ's room with a Pizza is a subconscious trigger for AJ that his father wanted to reconcile. The apology was sealed not with a handshake, hug, or kiss but with a piece of Pizza. When I was growing up, I had many hurtful difficult times where I never got the apology, just the symbol. I heard, "Hey Steve, come on, we're all going out for ice cream" and rarely a word about the hurtful issue. For me, the ritual of going to the local Dairy Queen was the ultimate form of apology and a way to bond our family no matter how difficult the emotional issue.

The danger with having a family ritual where hurts and difficult emotions are resolved using food is people get "anchored" emotionally to the food, especially children. What I mean by anchored is that when we are around a similar food (like me at Dairy Queen or Tony and AJ eating pizza), we feel a similar emotion to the original event, so in this case taken care of or loved.

This is how the process of emotional binge eating starts. We are trying to find a way to feel better about ourselves or a situation. It is not a sign of weakness or a lack of willpower. Like when one of Pavlov's dogs started to drool after hearing a bell go off, it is merely part of our past conditioning. For Tony Soprano, his ritual was to use food to resolve family issues (which is much preferred to how he resolved issues in his business dealings!!!)

Luckily we don't have to be victims to our past. With awareness and training, we can learn to make different choices. My success at losing 170 lbs and keeping it off for over 6 years has been a process of first becoming aware of these triggers and then making different choices. The nice part is, after time, many of those "unhealthy anchors" become lighter and no longer have the impact they once did.

You can also develop new healthy anchors that attract you towards a healthy balanced life.


PS I simplified one issue in this article so that it is not really accurate. Please make sure to read an Emotional Eating Lesson Inspired by Tony Soprano - Part Two and find out where I went astray.

A�Steven Kiges 2010

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