Grocery shopping, I spotted a box labeled, “Entertaining Crackers.” I chuckled. “I’ve never found crackers to be entertaining.”

Susan Lebel Young, a retired psychotherapist and mindfulness teacher, is the author of three books. Her latest is “Grandkids as Gurus: Lessons for Grownups.” Learn more at susanlebelyoung.com or email [email protected]

The sign leading to another aisle read, “Functional water.” I laughed. “Isn’t all water functional?”

I wondered about how we market food, advertisers desperate for sales, to entice, as if a buyer might say, “These crackers will entertain me.”

Recently, I relaxed with some magazines on a lazy summer afternoon, hungry for something to do, starved for human connection. A Maine Women’s Magazine from 2018 sat atop the pile, its cover announcing in bold black letters: “THE FOOD ISSUE.”

I smiled. I, like so many people, have had a food issue. And now it’s summer, when we crave our bathing suit weight, our beach body. Reading, I flashed back to ancient history. As a round middle-schooler, I’d been offered $50 if I lost 20 pounds, $50 for a new wardrobe, a smaller size. I was told, “You have tiny wrists. You should be thinner. Cut out sweets.”

It’s not just me. A friend told me her mother casually asked her brother, “Have you eaten today?” Then the same mother, hovering and scolding, asked her, “What have you eaten today?” Her food issues began that moment.

Another pal, who weighs himself morning and night, said all he ever wanted was to be thin, with bulging muscles, and to look lean. This short man longed be tall like his dad who told him, “No one will love you if you don’t lose weight. You’ll never be married.”

I asked, “You weigh yourself twice a day because  … ?”

“Because my life, my loves and my love life depend on what I do and do not put in my mouth.”

Because being thin, or getting married, or pleasing a parent is the goal (note the language of “goal weight”), about 42% of adults worldwide are trying to lose weight, according to a January 2017 study in Obesity Reviews. Each year 45 million people in the United States adopt weight loss programs. Diet and weight loss programs are a $71 billion industry, yet according to studies, 95% of diets fail, most with an after-effect of rebounded extra weight. When someone tells these researchers, “I’m going on a diet,” scientists ask, “How much weight do you plan to gain?”

So why do we entertain ourselves with recreational eating, then buy diet books, start or restart the newest regime, join the latest program? Maybe it’s COVID, when some of us let our lives become the size of our food plans.

Back to my lazy afternoon of hunger for something to do and starving for connection. We hunger for things other than physical food. We have emotional hungers for smiles, love, relationship, friends, nature-connected adventure, belonging, hugs. We have mental hungers for purpose, fulfilling days, brain stimulation. We have spiritual hungers for meaning, hope, our highest selves. We hunger for a healthy planet, politicians who get along, help for the marginalized, freedom for the oppressed and from our own obsessions. Maybe, after COVID, after gaining what has been jokingly called “the COVID 19,” after isolating, quarantining and masking, we feel empty. Of course. And we need to fill up. Of course.

Life-hunger issues can disguise themselves as food issues. We need food as functional nourishment; we also we need functional fullness, not just of food, but of life, its sweetness, sourness, bitterness – all of it. The pandemic’s peril has deprived us of life’s buffet, of life’s banquet. Yet, maybe, by entertaining ourselves with crackers and by confusing our goals, we limit what truly feeds us.

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