If you read periodicals or watch TV you are aware of the obesity epidemic in this country. You probably realize, too, that the problem is composed of many factors beyond our easily available food and sedentary lifestyles.
A frequently mentioned culprit undermining many weight-loss efforts is emotional eating. As a veteran and current combatant in the battle of the bulge I have first hand experience of responding to stimuli other than physical hunger by consuming food.
Although not quite as high profile as the obesity situation, another topic on the sociologists radar is the issue of our increasingly fractured and isolating culture. The supportive extended family and close-knit communities of the past seem to be disappearing. Our young people are responding by sharing their most intimate (one would think “private”) thoughts and actions with their closet 100 or so friends on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, while interacting in person by casual hook-ups and manipulative behaviors.
There was a time when one would see schoolgirls walking along holding hands and school boys with their arms slung over one anothers’ shoulders in gestures of affectionate friendship. The sexual identity of these children never came into question. In today’s hyper-sexualized atmosphere our young people are made aware of sexual overtones of even the most innocent-seeming touch at a very early age, making them wary of physical contact.
Is it possible that these two issues are somehow connected?
I first heard the term “skin hunger” about 15 years ago in the context of elderly people living alone.
Today, even people living with their family can go for days without experiencing affectionate, non-sexual skin-to-skin contact.
I’m very fortunate to have two physically affectionate young adult sons living with me these days. It is a rare day that passes without my receiving at least one enveloping bear hug. I make an effort to affectionately touch my elderly mother who also lives with me, at least daily, although bear hugs aren’t possible due to her frailty.
I’ve known times in my life, though, when weeks or months passed without a caress of any kind. Those were the times when my appetite was the greatest. I couldn’t seem to satisfy the gnawing hunger I felt.
Most of us have experienced a craving for a particular food that for one reason or another could not be immediately satisfied. Trying to substitute something else for what we wanted didn’t stop the craving. In some instances it might even have intensified it.
That can happen with skin hunger. If we fail to recognize the object of our need we might be tempted to try to assuage the craving with food. Unfortunately, no amount of food can take the place of physical affection. To make matters worse, emotional over-eating can lead to obesity and reduce even further one’s chance of having the real need met.
I’m not talking about sex, although some people do try to substitute sexual activity for affection.
Many wives complain that the only time their husband touches them is during sex. Sexual touching is just not the same and does not fill every need.
Perhaps if our children were giving and receiving more physical affection there would be both less promiscuous and less obese children and teens in our country.
One of the real blessings of a church family is the opportunity at every gathering to give and receive hugs without the fear of misunderstanding or offense.
It’s only idle musing on my part, of course, but I plan to continue to give and receive hugs whenever possible and appropriate. For my own sake and that of others.