OUR relationship to the food we eat is the most intimate, involved and enduring any of us will ever have. And as with all important relationships, it’s complicated. Food nurtures, fuels and excites us. It is our very life force. But it can harm us too. Or rather, we can use it to self-harm. It is tied up with the full spectrum of human emotions; pleasure, satisfaction, longing, sadness, guilt and shame.
All of us overeat at some time or another — and for all manner of reasons. Sometimes it’s social, or even celebratory, like stuffing yourself at Christmas. Sometimes it’s consolation we are looking for, such as when you gorge on ice cream after a bad day at work. The habit of using food to fill a need that goes beyond the body’s basic need for sustenance is pretty much universal.
But in Ireland, our propensity to eat too much is harming our health. Four out of 10 Irish people are overweight, according to the latest figures, and an alarming 23pc are obese. The health implications of this issue are clear. A significant proportion of us risk overeating our way to an early death. But why?
Karina Melvin is a psychologist and psychoanalyst. She specialises in weight loss and is the author of the book Artful Eating. She argues there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question because despite the clear epidemiological trend, the reasons behind overeating are extremely individual.
Overeating, says Melvin “is a spectrum”. It ranges from the occasional bout of “emotional eating to the more extreme end where there is compulsive binging, secret eating, eating to the point of feeling sick or in some cases getting sick, which is bulimia. When we talk about our relationship to food and when it becomes problematic, then it’s a