Sunday, February 6, 2011

Lessons from Astronauts

We're not supposed to connect emotions to food, right? We're not supposed to eat for comfort or so that we feel better. Food should not be our pleasure.

But the thing is, food is connected to emotions. Food is comforting. Food is pleasurable. Food does make us feel better.

This was reinforced for me when watching NOVA's "Can We Make it to Mars?”--a significant portion of which host and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson spends with astronaut food scientists. In the segment, they reference the psychological importance of food and quote several astronauts.

When you're in space, stuck inside, basically, a can. Food becomes...kind of a highlight of the day.” -- NASA Astronaut Jerry Linenger

You have to eat in order to survive. But what people don't...understand, I don't think, is the psychological aspect of food.” – NASA Astronaut Clayton Anderson

Because it is one of the few pleasures you have control over. And I think, people serving on submarines have long understood the importance of food for crews' well being.” – NASA Astronaut Andrew Thomas

Of course, most of us aren't astronauts or part of submarine crews. But when it comes down to it, food has psychological value. It's something most of us don't think about...because we don't have to. It's something you mightn't think about lest you suddenly find yourself lacking.

I'm not saying food is the main course of emotional and psychological well being. However, taking pleasure in food is, in fact, helpful.

I recognize that most people's relationship with food is fraught, some people consistently rely on food for comfort in ways that are harmful to their well-being, and some people become unable to control their binging (just as some people become unable to control their urge to deny themselves food--let's not set up a false dichotomy where anorexics and bulimics are 'in control' unlike binge eaters). But that doesn't make pleasure in food inherently bad or taking comfort in it an inherently negative behavior.

Food has value for your mental health. Food has psychological value. You are not a bad person because you take pleasure in food. In fact, overall, we're probably better for it. 

For more on this from someone brilliant, visit The Fat Nutritionist here and here.  

1 comment:

  1. I've been thinking about this post for a few days now (and also The Rotund's post on comfort eating).

    It makes me think of when I was a teenager, desperately depressed about being so disgustingly fat that no one could ever love me. I desperately wanted to be thin, and while I didn't really officially diet, I'd hardly eat during the day (but would be so hungry I'd binge at night).

    I now know that not eating is actually pretty psychologically devastating for me - I get paranoid and depressed really quickly, and was frequently suicidal. I remember planning my 'last meal', but - amazingly - once I ate it, I felt significantly less depressed.

    Yep, it was comfort food, and it made me feel a lot better. It saved my fucking life. But it was not eating that helped push me to such a bad place to begin.

    (Also, I don't know what commenting system you're using, but it won't let me comment from my real blog -