Let us never forget
To give thanks for the way You have
Blessed the hands of the cook.
from "Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine," by Norma Jean and Carole Darden
"I do love her. And I know she loves me. She just drives me crazy, that's all. I don't see her for six months. I go home. Bam! She's in the kitchen. Cooking. While I'm screaming that I've just had a full meal. What does she want from me?" the young woman wailed.
And they were off, therapist and client, exploring the psychological dynamics of the principle: Mother Is Love. Love Is Food. Mother Is Food.
"Some people will always choose food as the demonstrative tool of affection and esteem," says a clinical psychologist who specializes in family counseling. "They will be the ever-virgilant mother - to everyone they socialize with - and most certainly with their children."
They are the force-feeders. You know the ones. . . . "Here, just have this. One more little piece won't hurt you" . . . Force-feeders are an obstinate lot and require special handling.
Suspect, say the experts, that you're becoming one if you apologize for your cantaloupe-banana-strawberry delight (instead of pecan pie): "I'm sorry I don't have a real dessert. "
"Think of the cultural value of food in past civilizations and times. In poorer societies, food represented prosperity, even power. In the immigrant days of America, it heavily represented success the same way," says Linda Reed, coordinator of the Youth and Family Outpatient Program at Northwest Center for Community Mental Health in Virginia.
But, she added, there are more complicated emotions at work in the minds of people who want to force food: insecurities in their role as hostess or parent. Food as power and source of the dominant role for the moment. Food for guilt. To soothe and ccmfort.
Dr. Richard B. Stuart, director of motivational research for Weight Watchers International and co-author of the group's guidebook, "Act Thin, Stay Thin," says force-feeders:
Think dieters don't really want to stay on the program and therefore need only "permission" to overeat.
Think diets are unsafe.
May view everything offered as a token of friendship, therefore see food-refusal as rejection.
May envy will power.
"The anger that sometimes develops in these situations is two-pronged," adds psychologist Reed. "The giver wants validation in his need to please. And the taker has built-in resentment - plus, he may really be fighting himself not to give in."
"Mothering" begins with the primitive feeding experience. The mother, if she's breast-feeding, may have a physical need. There is tension in the hungry baby. The minute feeding begins, there is satisfaction.
"But," says Reed, "parents sometimes get into the role, very early, of casting about for some food to satisfy the child. And they just never stop doing it.
"Or Mother may simply want some time to paint her toenails. Food keeps the baby quiet."
Parents often have no capacity to give and don't know how to enjoy being with thier children. "Food is used then as a distancing device," Reed says.
Parents frequently pass patterns on from one generation to another.
"When I was growing up, food was a sign of love. Of family prosperity.And I instilled that in my daughter. Consequently, she traveled the road of obestity, too," said Rose Friedland, area director of Weight Watchers of Washington.
"If my daughter fell down I was right there, picking her up, cookie in hand. I knew it would make her feel better." By 1964, Fiedland was heading into middle age and size 20.
"Of course, I was renowned as a hostess. I would cook four meals for one. People loved to come to my house. I'd stand at the stove for days. And if they didn't eat, I'd tell them how hard I worked, they say EAT!"
Friedland is now a size 9. Her thin daughter is the mother of "two beautiful, slender children, and they don't get many cookies, I can tell you."
Jane Symons, the slim, 32-year-old operations manager at WETA-TV, admits, "There's no question about it. I overdo. When I'm cooking, I feel better knowing there's plenty."
The tendency, she said, probably stems from her father's recollections of the Depression, when he and his Louisiana family often couldn't get vegetables. "And my mother, who entertaned a lot, probably took her cues from him. She always, always said, 'It's better to have too much and eat it for a week than to have too little.'
"While I prepare for a party, I love to pile it on. And when my father comes, I get like a kid again. I want to please him by cooking four vegetables. Salad, Everything."
Elizabeth "Boo" Robinove, training director for D.C. Weight Watchers, suggests using the group's "personal action plan" to turn food-thrusters around. (Or to turn yourself around if you think you're leaning in that direction.)
"It's learning to say, 'I know you prepared this for me. It looks delicious. But I need your help on the program I've embarked on.' It's saving no in such a way that that person doesn't feel rejected."
Robinove also suggest keeping in close touch with your feelings, recognizing anger, social frustration, anxiety or boredom. They can ruin the most sumptuous feast.
Dr. Daniel Geller, a social psychologist at Georgetown University, says that a person caught in the "recipient" role should "imply take control of his life at that moment.Don't absorb it. You're under no obligation to go along with the host's program of using his food to compete socially or to prove competency - or any of the things that might to into his thinking."
Jeff Ellis, the 34-year-old co-owner of Ridgewell's fashionable Washington caterers, says of the 40 or so daily functions - up to 60 during a heavy social season - that Ridgewell's attends: "Budget and feeling" of the party seem to be primary concerns. People are not that well off. Besides, my opinion is, it's not the food that makes the party. It's the people there." Help for the Food Pusher
To get a handle on the food-pushing habit:
Redirect your entertaining efforts. Make the mood and presentation more important with candles, ironed linens, fresh flowers and music.
Tell yourself, "I'm the cook. It's delicious and attractive and right for tonight." Then forget it.
Check ahead for dinner style. Fondue? Cook-out? What's your guests' pleasure? It shows caring.
Mentally apportion food servings and then stick to it.
Grocery shop on a full stomach. CAPTION: Picture, no caption, Photo by Dennis Darling for The Washington Post