One of the most powerful strategies for reconnection, and my personal favorite, comes down to snacks. Providing some sort of food as a regulating strategy is often a segue to an empathic conversation.
From a behavioral perspective, we’ve long been taught to use food as a reward. For example, we do this frequently with our kids – we say things like, “You pee on the potty you get a Smartie.” Or you’re allowed a “cheat meal” after you’ve put in all the work first. Here’s the deal: you can’t chew and swallow with a flipped lid, which means if I get you chewing and swallowing, I can rest assured that I have access to the best parts of you.
When we’re most upset, particularly if we’ve engaged in a situation (or even a work shift) that is considered “traumatic,” the last thing we want to do is eat. Sometimes it can be one of the most important things we can do – even if it’s a sip of water or juice – so we can get back to a state of regulation. There, and only there, will we have access to someone else’s capacity for empathy – or our own. So many have explained to me when they’re trying to “get through” to someone they love, especially when they can see them hurting, they will use words, “You have to talk to me. What’s wrong? What happened today?”
But you can’t make people talk. You can’t get to the best parts of them (or you), including our ability for empathy, if the lid is flipped. So, offering a snack, having food at the ready when someone you loves comes off shift, or your babe needs that emergency fruit snack during a grocery store meltdown, can get us back to regulation and thus access to our empathic ability the quickest.
Also – just for the record, you can’t regulate anyone with a carrot stick. Nutritional value aside (even just for a moment), when I’m in the middle of a break-up and I’m the saddest I’ve been in a while, I’m not looking for a salad. Give me the ice-cream and gluten and the things that temporarily will make me feel good. Kids are the same way. In line with this, people often ask if employing this strategy will lead to disordered eating. I appreciate that question very much; however, I’m not talking about using food as a coping mechanism to feel good. Although I understand how the lines can be blurred, this is instead about the consideration of “breaking bread” when trying to make sense of hard emotions that can often be a healing and restorative factor that we often overlook, particularly when we only use food as a reward for the good behavior.