Many moons ago, I noticed that men have an interesting and active relationship with sex. They want it, they want more of it, they talk about it, fantasize about it, buy it, take it, and might even become a bit obsessed about it. Sex looms large in a man’s psyche, and this doesn’t seem to be a secret. Advertisers love to use this neuropsychological fact to entice men to buy stuff, and women know a thing or two about working this part of a man’s operating system to get him to do just about anything.
Oddly enough, the equivalent for women is food. Tell me if you believe otherwise, but women will fantasize about food, eat it, talk about eating it, talk about not eating it, analyze why they ate it, lament that they can’t eat more, and try to figure out how they can eat more food or less food and still be happy and still lose weight. Once again, advertisers are the main experts in understanding this aspect of a woman’s neurobiology – they love selling high fat, high sweet foods to entice a woman’s senses, and then they aim their marketing machinery at selling low fat, low calorie artificially sweetened fare to help them slim down.
So, if I were to sum it all up, I’d simply say “men and sex, women and food.” And I’d wonder out loud – is this inborn, is this a product of culture and upbringing, and where do we go from here? Of course, not every man and woman falls neatly into these categories, if at all. But to ignore these powerful connections that occur across a wide expanse guys and gals would be a missed opportunity.
From a standpoint of culture and how it influences male and female, I believe a useful distinction is this: women are seen as sex objects, men are seen as success objects. For men, value is often given in who they are, how much cash they make, and how much power they wield. Guys who have the money and the position are seen as hot commodities and sought after by the fairer sex. And indeed, they are often rewarded for a having a healthy bank account by receiving actual sex.
For the women of the world that our culture reduces to sex objects, food becomes extra important. Why? Well, the more food you eat, the fatter you may become, and the fatter you are, the less value you have as a sex object, which means the less likely you are to receive the attention of men, which means the less chance you will have of finding real love, commitment and partnership. Or so the underlying thinking goes. Have you noticed how so many women will juggle their food intake, exercise amount, fat grams, desserts, and do everything to regulate their appetite – all with the intent to manage the dreaded possibility of body fat?
Just as the media and the culture have men by the balls in measuring their worth by how much money and how many chicks they’ve banked, so too do they have women by the ovaries in measuring their worth by weight. The hidden side of feminine culture, of the inner life of women and girls, is a powerful and intense struggle to conform to some arbitrary standard of slenderness. The result is a host of unwanted behaviors, such as under eating, which leads to overeating and binge-eating, bulimia, compulsive eating, as well as chronic dieting, which often leads to nutrient deficiency, fatigue, mood swings, brain fog, low immunity, depression, and oddly enough, weight gain.
So what’s the solution?
I believe a first step is simply a compassionate understanding and acknowledgment of these dynamics. For women, their special connection to food seems inborn – they grow and feed babies in the womb, and naturally nourish them when they pop out into the world. Women and food are timelessly and genetically and perhaps even spiritually linked. What a beautiful thing. Yet when this natural relationship with food is distorted, a woman’s life can become a silent hell. I know them, I see them in my practice, they’re my friends, my companions, even my own mother.
Perhaps a second step is to notice our own minds, our judgments of others, our self- judgments, and begin to take responsibility for what we believe. And as best we can, why not tone down the intensity at which we broadcast old and outdated ways of seeing each other. So much of the activity of the human mind is focused on how we criticize and “curse” ourselves, and the planet. What if we spent more time “blessing” one another, and upholding the dignity of who we really are? What would happen if our life force was directed not towards our invented shortcomings, but our sweetest potential? I think the men of the world would naturally feel more powerful and less needy for sex, and the women of the world would feel a profound sense of nourishment, and would happily eat as they please.
Are there are any particular insights you would like to share around women and food/men and sex?
Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating
© Institute For The Psychology of Eating, All Rights Reserved, 2014
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