Author | JP Sears, Holistic Health Coach

Imagine a scene propagated by endless patterns of “I hate you, get out of my life!” followed by “I love you, be mine forever and lets never fight again.” In this cycle there is a sea of punishment through physical and emotional torture. There are tears amidst silent seething. The essence of defeated oppression lay in one corner and controlling dominance stands in the other.   Does this scene warrant a call to the police to break up the domestic dispute?  Any other time the answer would be yes. Unfortunately in this case the solution isn’t that easy when we realize that what is being described is a person and their relationship to food.

What is your relationship to food like? Where does it land on the spectrum from violent conflict to peaceful harmony? While all of us don’t have a disastrous relationship with food, it is my experience that a strained physical, mental, and emotional relationship to one’s food is more the rule than the exception. What do the broken relationships look like? They can appear as over eating, under eating, abuse through sugar, obsessing about junk food, obsessing about healthy food, shaming self after a splurge, shaming self in an attempt to prevent a splurge, and of course traditionally diagnosed eating disorders.

The vicious symptoms of a love hate connection with our source of nutrition that is intended to keep us alive paradoxically begins to feel like a suffocating strangle hold. Are we held back in our ability to tone our bodies, lose weight, or have energetic vitality because when we abuse food it seems as though it abuses us right back? What would it be like to make rational choices about our food to appropriately fuel our minds and bodies without having to experience a storm of emotional interference?

Smoke and Mirrors-Finding the Real Conflict

As I have the chance to listen to numerous individuals describe their challenged connection with food, commonly themes involving conflict, hate, torment, punishment, and defeat are described. These violent qualities are to be expected in most conflicts. However the world seemingly starts to wobble on its axis when we take a step back and realize that food is benign. This other party in the violent relationship isn’t capable of insulting, belittling, expressing physical abuse, creating schemes of torment, or overpowering anyone. Would it then be a sensible sanity check to consider that our violent relationships with food have nothing to do with food?

Does the violent conflict between the abuser and the abused all lie within the individual? If this is the case, maybe we reach an oasis of clarity in the realization that we’ve been pinning the tail of blame onto food for the conflict that goes on within our own minds and hearts all along. While it may be our normal modus operandi to take on, for example, the role of the victim and view our food as the punisher, it is perhaps a breath of fresh non-delusional air to accept the reality that we are both the victim and punisher participants simultaneously within our self. If blaming food for our challenges gives our inherent power away, would you believe that reclaiming our personal power begins by way of learning to recognize the violent conflict within self that gets projected onto our relationship with food?

Victim-Punisher Entanglement

When are you most identified with being the victim in the unholy matrimony with your food? As the victim we may feel helpless, defeated, hopeless, emotionally hurt through shame or guilt, or physically hurt through the pain of being overly stuffed or starved.  “Why does this happen to me?” “Why can’t I be stronger and more dedicated to my nutrition?” are the cadences our minds chant when we are wearing the victim archetype.

Are there times, be they few or majority, that you are more identified as the punisher? The punisher feels in control, won’t play by anyone’s rules (not even its own), and tries to prove its strength through dominance.  “I’m eating the box of cookies and I don’t give a damn,” “You’re no good, you’re weak, and don’t have an ounce of will power,” are echoes we’ll hear or more likely feel when identified as the punisher.

A purpose of noticing which identify we’re embodying in a given moment is so that we can also see the other identity that’s in hiding.  For example, if you feel most like the victim with your food in this moment would you be surprised to find out that another part of you is stealthfully playing the role of the punisher?  Just as a north pole necessitates that there is a south pole, we’ll always be ground down by our victim and punisher tendencies at the same time.  One usually hides while the other is noticed, propelling their on going cycle of stress and strain. Shining the light of our awareness on both is very helpful to becoming unbound.

Finding Peace

As food merely becomes the brass knuckles that the victim and punisher within put on their fists, how do we find resolve for the on going war? Would you imagine for a moment that if our strained relationship with food is a symptom of our punisher and victim conflict within self, then the latter is perhaps a symptom of something even deeper yet? You’re invited to consider that a powerful step toward freedom is found through finding the childhood attachments we have to being the punisher and victim. Would the reason we can actually become attached to these painful expressions be found in the simple truth that says if something is familiar, no matter how painful, it becomes comfortable?

Please consider the following questions:

  1. When you were younger, what family member would you guess participated in a cycle of victim and punisher behavior with you the most?
  2. Which role did you typically play (victim or punisher)?  Which role did they play?
  3. What were the emotions you experienced while being in your role?
  4. What emotions would you guess you had but were in denial of when you were playing your role?
  5. How was this other person important to you?
  6. What if your stressful relationship with food allows you to replicate within yourself the victim and punisher interaction for the purpose of replicating an inner experience of your relationship with this person?


As there are many degrees to a circle, there are many angles to consider when it comes to a violent relationship with food. The punisher and victim combat within comprises not the only possible root system of a strained relationship, yet it is a significantly common culprit. Becoming conscious of the role we are identified with and then seeing the unseen role that always stays with its companion is a powerful stride forward. We then stride deeper into forward momentum of finding peace with our food by considering our past and what relationship of victim and punisher got tattooed into our unconsciousness and continues seeking expression into the present day out of a relentless thirst to stay attached to the familiar.

About the Author

JP Sears is a Holistic Health Coach in San Diego, CA. His one-on-one client practice specializes in holistic emotional healing and resolving self-sabotage issues. JP regularly facilitates classes and workshops nationally and internationally on a variety of healing and health topics while being widely acclaimed for his heartfelt and dynamic style. For more information on upcoming classes, tele-classes, or becoming a client, please visit