As far back as breast or formula feeding, most of us learned that a sweet taste meant care and comfort. As we grew into more grown up foods, we generally learn to equate certain goods with comfort. Our parents picked up on these foods and would offer them as treats. Ice cream, anyone?
Somewhere deep in our subconscious most of us learn to connect food – at least certain types of food – with nurturing, comfort and solace. Caregivers, stressed to the max from trying to stay ahead of the needs of elders or others who depend on their care, often turn to food to comfort themselves or to relax. There tends to be a "I deserve this" mentality, and caregivers do, indeed, deserve to be pampered somehow. It's human and actually very good to want to comfort ourselves when we are stressed or even bored.
Cabin Fever and Stress Eating
Picture this: a middle aged woman at home caring for her elderly mother who has stage three Alzheimer's. The daughter who is the primary caregiver knows she is fortunate to have a husband who earns a good living, enabling her to care for her mother at home, full time. However, day after day goes by and the daughter doesn't have any time for herself. She doesn't have any "me" time when she isn't on call because of her mother's needs. This can lead to resentment, even if it's subconscious.
While the caregiver's mother may not need active attention every minute of the day and night, the mother does need supervision. The daughter eventually becomes stressed from feeling cooped up without the option to leave the house. She is bored, as her mother's communication is limited and repetitive. The caregiving daughter has little interaction with the outside world.
She knows she is fortunate to be able to stay home and care for her mother. She feels guilty for her occasional resentful feelings about her situation, since she knows many other people would love an option like hers. The only thing that seems brings her comfort is food.
Lately there have been studies pointing to the fact that middle-aged women are prone to eating disorders. I'd like to see statistics on how many of those women are caregivers. We see questions on the AgingCare.com forum from women who have gained considerable weight during the months or years they've been caregiving. Many have gradually turned from seeking occasional comfort from food to what may be a full-blown food addiction. Food becomes to them the only realistic way that they can relieve their stress.