Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship with food. This is partly, I think, because I just finished my recent “diet” where I seriously limited my intake of some of my favorite foods like bread and chocolate, which is something I hadn’t done in a long, long time. Then just the other day, I read through a really good cookbook that discussed food relationships and opened my eyes to how I was really feeling. (Also, I know it’s weird to say that a cookbook changed how I was feeling about food, but this one was interspersed with personal stories from the author that I related to so, so much. More on that later.)
So I’m sure this will come as no surprise to anyone who’s read my blog for more than, oh I don’t know, three days: I love food. I love everything about it. I love when flavors mix on my tongue and create something vibrant and exciting. I love when I dig into something comforting that makes me feel just a little bit happier inside. I tend to get way too excited about food and way too happy when I’m eating it. I have never been one of those people who can just skip a meal; even if I’m not hungry I am always looking forward to the next time I get to eat.
I know that some of these feelings aren’t “healthy,” and to some they probably aren’t even normal. Then again, I know that a lot of other people out there struggle with an unhealthy relationship with food (we are wired to be this way after all!), so I figured it was worth talking about today.
I am very lucky to live a wonderful and happy life, and thankfully I don’t suffer from many bouts of sadness or stress. This is especially lucky for me because based on how I am around food, I think if I had a more tumultuous life I would also have a very different food problem. While I usually can control my eating and avoid going overboard, I have noticed that after a particularly stressful or sad day I have much less control. During my “diet” over the last few weeks, I would be doing so amazing and staying right on track and then BOOM – one stressful afternoon at work led to a piece of chocolate on my metro ride home to calm me down, which then led to a spoonful of peanut butter when I got home. Identifying that I am a stress/comfort-seeking eater is the first step, but I know I still need to work to replace the comfort that I feel from food with comfort from other sources. This is something I’m working on.
I also consider myself lucky that I’ve figured all this out already about myself, and have worked very hard to overcome my love affair (addiction?) to food. Over the last five years or so I’ve learned about the importance of filling my body with wholesome foods and – more importantly – learned how to create wholesome foods that nourish my body and still bring me joy. Food is meant to be enjoyed after all, I just think it’s important to understand that it’s first and foremost meant to fuel your body and keep it at its healthiest state.
There was once a time where I would sit down for a meal and eat everything available without abandon. If we were at a restaurant, I would eat bread, an appetizer, and some unhealthy meal – usually with French fries – and then get dessert. I didn’t think anything of it either; to me going to out to dinner was a time to eat all the most delicious foods that you don’t get to eat on a regular basis. While I still feel like this at times – that going out to eat is a special occasion and the special food should be enjoyed – I no longer feel the “need” to order the appetizer, the French fries, the dessert (ok, I still need the bread). I can order fish or grilled chicken with mixed veggies with no regrets and I have learned to focus more on the atmosphere of the restaurant and the people I’m with.
This is the same when I am eating at home. When I was growing up, there were always so many delicious, albeit unhealthy, foods on the table at mealtimes, and I loved everything so much that I had a really hard time stopping after one serving and putting my fork down when I was full. Now that I cook for myself, I make foods that I know are healthy for my body (but still tasty!), and by portioning out everything ahead of time I am able to better control the amount of food I’m putting into my mouth.
These changes have come slowly for me over the years, and I finally feel that I’ve arrived at a place where these shifts are coming from within – I no longer feel that I’m forcing myself to skip the fries or the dessert; it’s now something that comes naturally for me. Of course there are definitely times when I decide the French fries are just absolutely worth it, and that’s fine, but I’m talking more about the change to every day bad food habits that I used to have.
The cookbook that I read recently is called Eating in the Middle, and while it’s filled with mostly wholesome, healthy, and delicious recipes, it also includes recipes for things like peanut butter mousse pie with a pretzel crust and chorizo nachos. For each recipe, the author Andy spends a bit of time talking about her relationships with and memories of certain foods, and then talks about how those relationships have changed as she has grown to accept and nourish a healthier lifestyle.
This book spoke to me so much, and made me realize just how far I’ve come in my own journey. Then again, I know that turning to my sweets and treats to make me feel better is still a less-than-healthy behavior, and I’m sure it’s something I’ll continue working on for the rest of my life.
All this is to say that if you are struggling with your own journey to love food while balancing a healthy lifestyle, know that you aren’t alone and that it does seem to get easier with time (at least for me). I don’t think I will ever overcome my fierce love/obsession with food, but that’s ok. I don’t think we are meant to. 🙂
Question of the day: Have you ever struggled with your relationship with food?