Most everyone is aware of the obesity epidemic in this country and it is generally agreed 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 of the battle of the bulge, I have firsthand experience responding to stimuli other than physical hunger by eating.
Although it is not quite as high profile as the obesity problem, another topic on the sociologists’ radar is our increasingly fractured and isolating culture. The supportive extended families and close-knit communities of the past seem to be disappearing. Our young people are responding by sharing their most intimate thoughts and actions with their 100 or so closest friends on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and with casual hook-ups.
There was a time when it was not uncommon for schoolgirls to walk along holding hands or school boys to casually sling their arms of over one another’s shoulders in gestures of friendship. The sexual identity of these children never came into question. In today’s overly sexualized atmosphere our young people are made to see sexual overtones in even the most innocent touch at very early ages, making them wary of physical contact.
Is it possible that these two issues, obesity and a lack of non-sexual touch, are somehow connected?
I first heard the term “skin hunger” many years ago in the context of elderly people living alone. Today, even people living within a 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. It is a rare day when I don’t get at least one enveloping bear hug. But, I have known times in my life when weeks 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 which 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.
There is another hunger food can’t sate and that is spiritual hunger. We can fill our lives with anything else, but we will not be satisfied when our craving is for a personal relationship with Christ.
[original version of this post published November 2010]