Last week I was eating lunch with M and Hubby and I was chewing something. M leaned over and kept trying to put a chip in my mouth. "Just eat it Momma!" I would turn my head away, and when I turned my head back, there was the chip, pushed up to my lips which I kept clamped shut. (Does this sound familiar? I watched an almost-toddler go through this very thing at a restaurant last week. Dad kept pushing chopsticks with food at her mouth and she repeatedly turned away, adding a swat every now and then...) "No thank you, " I said after I had swallowed. I think she thought it was funny because she poked the chip at me one more time. I could feel myself getting angry. My body was tense, I was irritated and focusing on my frustration with her, rather than on the eating experience. "In this house we don't eat anything we don't want to. Please stop."
Then again, last week, I enjoyed a large and satisfying lunch only to have the next stop unexpectedly be a place with lots of wonderful foods– and the chef was there. The chef was so eager for me to try the foods that she verbally pressed me at least a dozen times to eat X, Y or try Z. I found myself getting really angry. In spite of several apologies that I was already uncomfortably full (I also topped the meal off with a hot coffee on a hot day) she persisted. I finally said, "I am so full that I am uncomfortable, I am sure your food is delicious but I am just not hungry. It's actually making me upset that you are pushing me to eat." Yet, she persisted... Finally I tried a few bites, and I specifically said, "I am not hungry, but I will eat this to make you happy." (The food was delicious, which I assured her.)
What surprised me in both instances was how upset, angry and physically tense I became. I resented that I was being pressured and pushed. I do this work all the time, talk to parents about how pressuring with feeding backfires, but I had usually been most able to empathize with pressure to eat less, not more food. It was fascinating!
I can only imagine if I was a toddler with the hair-trigger temper, where my main job developmentally is to assert my independence and "do it myself," how I would have reacted! (Moms and dads of toddlers can picture this as well!)
In the first scenario, I might have gotten so upset that I stopped eating before I was full. (It is hard to focus on sensations of hunger and fullness when you're upset.) In the second case, I overate to please someone else. (Might a pre-schooler do this to please a parent or favorite teacher who insists that all the "growing food" gets eaten before dessert?) In both situations, the pressure made it harder for me to tune-in to my internal cues and eat the right amount, and it spoiled the fun!
How do you feel when you are pressured to eat more or less food than you want?