Food, Love and Lust

Ah – Valentine’s Day. I actually believe that Valentine’s Day may be a test to trip up people trying to maintain focus on New Year’s resolutions around weight and health. Six weeks after the new year begins we put out a commercialized holiday that plays on people’s neuroses about love and celebrates it with lots of chocolate.

Posted on | Ramani Durvasula, PhD | Comments ()

Ah – Valentine’s Day.  I actually believe that Valentine’s Day may be a test to trip up people trying to maintain focus on New Year’s resolutions around weight and health. Six weeks after the new year begins we put out a commercialized holiday that plays on people’s neuroses about love and celebrates it with lots of chocolate.

It’s like being set up to fail.

If you are in love – then chocolates are on the top of the list of appropriate gifts, and magazines run endless articles on the “perfect” Valentine's dessert – and let’s face it, lots of people in relationships note that they put on “love” pounds now that the quest is over.  If you are not in love – well – on this day, you are persona non grata – and what better way to drown those sorrows than sweets (especially for those of us so inclined)?

Just a friendly reminder to all emotional eaters out there. Food is not love. Food is food. It is nutrition, it is sustenance, it can even be fun,  but it is not love. 

Food can be about lust – and there is some moderately convincing evidence of the aphrodisiac properties of certain foods such as oysters and chocolate (and while alcohol is not an aphrodisiac per se, it can sometimes get you to the finish line a bit quicker). And certainly, some creative erotic things can be done with food – but that is a blog for a different day.

That is quite different than using food to fill a void. Many lonely people report using food to “fill a gap,” to ease a feeling of aloneness.  Sadly, Valentine’s Day is designed to make people feel “less” for being alone – don’t fall for it. 

People trying to make healthy changes face a minefield of holidays and other occasions that pose a significant challenge: Superbowl Sunday, Valentine’s Day, corned beef and beer on St. Patrick’s, chocolate eggs on Easter, Mother’s Day brunches, July 4th picnics etc. etc. Add to that the personal smattering of birthday parties and weddings, and it feels like we are forever trying to fend off temptation, or at the very least missing the party.  

Valentine’s Day tends to be unique because it pushes on a pressure point for so many people – most of us can be bigger than an Easter egg – but when it comes to love – we all are vulnerable. Those of you who used the new year as a benchmark to start working toward healthier nutrition – don’t let Cupid throw you off track.    

Rethink your paradigm of love. First, make Valentine’s Day about something other than “romantic love” – make it something universal – the love of a sibling, a friend, a parent, a child, a dog, even a familiar and kind store clerk. And don’t let the current absence of romantic love in your life lead you down the path to using food, especially the proliferation of chocolate hearts, to fill a need it is not designed to fill.  (I wish I could make one of those conversation hearts say “Don’t eat me”).  Or better yet – make it about loving yourself – make a healthy dinner for yourself, and toast the first 6 weeks of the healthiest year of your life!  

Here’s to love (in its many forms)! 

Blog written by Ramani Durvasula, PhD
Dr. Ramani Durvasula has over 15 years of teaching, clinical and research experience. After receiving her doctorate in clinical...