Food and Self-Esteem

So, in my more than 20 years of practice as a dietitian, coach and educator I have met hundreds of people and have observed some very interesting behaviours among them.  One of which is their relationship with food and their  self-esteem. Here’s what I have observed  regarding food and self-esteem. Now, this is no scientific research, just purely my observation as a practitioner.

I noticed that my clients who emigrate to North America say less than 10 years, tend to have a different relationship to food, eating and overall self-esteem where food is concerned. This I noticed when compared to the very same ethnic group of clients but instead they were born in North America or have lived in North America much longer than their original country of birth.

So what is it that I have observed with this group? I noticed new immigrants for the most part eat food for sustenance – they are hungry so they eat or to celebrate a special occasion. They typically don’t eat around the clock, nor do they struggle with food. The biggest challenge I have noticed with this group is how foods are prepared or just a lack or limited knowledge of healthy food preparation methods ( deep-fried, not enough vegetables, large portions of starchy foods)

I noticed that my North-American-born clients (I am referring to all ethnic groups not just white North Americans) tend to eat food for pleasure  and more commonly because they are lonely, angry, afraid, sad,stressed etc.  A good number of these clients of mine don’t know what being hungry feels like- they have lost the ability to detect this very important signal from their body. Their self-esteem is wrapped up in what they eat!

Now you might say to me, this is not true, all ethnic group use food in either of these ways. You are right, but notice the difference: the length of time they have been living in North America!  After the 10 year mark I notice the unhealthy social and emotional reasons for eating are similar to those clients  who are North American born.

What is responsible for this association between food and self-esteem in these groups of clients?  I surmise part of it is the sheer abundance of food. It is readily available and it doesn’t require much preparation so it is easy to access and to eat!  I also suspect the fact that a good majority of  immigrants are coming into North America from economic circumstances that are not conducive to having food as readily available as their North American counterparts ( there are exceptions to this observation of course) so, in the early years they use food more similar to how they would in their home countries.  Finally, I surmise that because of the abundance so evident in North America it is simply abused in the various ways I have observed clients using food over the years.

Phyllis Reid-Jarvis, Mph, RD, PCC

Life Coach Educator and Director at Ultimate Potentials

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