Second things first: I have always attributed my odd cravings around chocolate to my upbringing during the Second World War when there was no chocolate in the shops. My family spent a major part of the war in what was then called rural Westmoreland in flight from the Blitz in
Buried in this personal story, though, there hides a great lesson about our understanding of the element which controls our attitude to food, the Earth element, our Mother element, and the element of hearth and home, which shelters the Stomach official and all that involves our relationship to food . And this brings me now to the anorexic patient. Food is inevitably associated with our mothers, and therefore with the kind of mothering, nurturing and feeding of body and soul which we each received as a child and which stamped itself upon how our Earth element deals with the food we are given. With eating problems of all kinds, whether those associated with over-eating or under-eating, we need to look at the kind of nurturing our patients received in childhood. If we look deeply enough, it will be there that we may find some explanation for what may later on have disturbed our patients’ approach to food. In my own case, I feel it was no coincidence that, war child that I was, there were long periods when we were left in our grandmother’s care to free our mother to return to London for weeks at a time to help our father with his London work.
It is revealing, too, to see the changes in body-shape which under- and over-eating cause. An anorexic person can appear to be shrinking gradually back down to their shape as a young child, as weight drops off, muscle loses its tone and menstruation ceases. An obese person moves in the opposite direction, as bulk is added. It is as though they are forming themselves into a shape which accommodates not only themselves but somebody else inside their skin. They appear to be enclosing themselves within something which could be said to offer the warm comfort of a home into whose arms they can sink. And this great envelope of flesh seems to be able to offer them an endless supply of food for a hunger that cannot be satisfied unless the deep underlying needs can be acknowledged and understood.
We may think that such imbalances in the Earth element point to this element being the guardian element in each of these cases, but that is not so. Any of the five elements, including Earth, may suffer from eating problems. The anorexic patient I saw this week was of the Wood element, and my element is Fire. In each case, though, it is our Earth element which takes on the burden (emotionally and physically) of whatever imbalance lies at the root of the problems.
Finally, since the actual level of food intake is the effect, not the cause, of a patient’s imbalance, it is unhelpful to focus all our and our patients’ attention upon the amount of food consumed, as many therapies dealing with eating problems do. Instead we need to help patients work out ways of dealing with the underlying problems, and this is done by strengthening the guardian element’s ability to restore balance. My craving for chocolate, I always think, is more to do with my mother’s absences from home and my fear that something might happen to her under the