What’s your story with food and eating?
My story is perhaps a typical one, unique in its ways. My early eating life followed the trends of the American culture in which I was raised. My parents did their best to raise me to be a healthy person and a good eater. Mom prepared home-cooked, balanced meals and limited my access to junk and sweets. Our family followed the best health advice of the time. When margarine was the thing, we had margarine. When fat-free became better, we had fat free. When instant breakfasts, vitamins and weight loss bars were recommended, we had them. My parents paid attention and took care of us as best they could – I honor them for their efforts.
I also remember another part of my food story: the one of secrets. I remember the pink jewelry case I would sneak into the dark kitchen, pouring white sugar in so that I could lick it clean in my room. I remember feeding Mom’s amazing whole grain sandwiches with sprouts and garden tomatoes to the starving dog on the way to the bus stop so I wouldn’t be embarrassed at the lunch table. I remember coveting sugary cereal and white bread, and when I had them, I remember the rush of eating them with wild abandon.
I remember the crush of stress as I started college, the deep isolation of a small-town girl in a huge world. I remember the new influences of food – the way a 10,000 calorie fried meal at the student union could comfort me, the way girls starved themselves for dates, the way my body became worrisome and wrong.
I remember discovering subcultures of food, and the social gains I could make by joining a team. I became one of the league of vegetarians working at Burger King, living on fries and white buns with ketchup and tomato, reading Thoreau righteously at the sticky tables.
From there, “health food” played a significant role in my social life. I learned things at health food stores, read books, watched shows, met people who cared about food. Health food and social relationships became intertwined, though when no one was looking, I still chased my impulses toward the forbidden foods of my youth, often in quietly gratifying binges.
In truth, I often felt confused and overwhelmed by the health food debates and the dogmatic allegiances my social groups formed around them. Though I mostly ate in ways my peers would agree with (secret binges aside), in my heart the rightness always felt shaky, too restrictive and inauthentic, because honestly I found so many contradicting arguments compelling and I wanted to relax and enjoy myself a little more with food. Also, in a way I didn’t want to admit, I didn’t feel very well.
Echoes of these late adolescent experiences carried through early adulthood, and I lived through many cycles of trying to find new “rights.” I tried to keep up with the recommendations of the day. I tried not to be tricked by the advertising or catch myself eating foods perceived as wrong. I tried programs and systems and books, sometimes motivated by an interest in weight loss, but more often interested in feeling better, particularly as health challenges continued to arise. I took myself on 5-day clean-outs, 30-day projects, year-long journeys. I learned a lot.
But almost invariably, after I would financially and personally invest in the early phases of these commitments, placing my future health zealously on the line, I would hit an inevitable disruption. Suddenly I would find myself abandoning the commitment that I secretly had never fully bought into. Quietly I accumulated years of confusion, disappointment, shame and resignation. And I still felt poorly.
The next stages of this story are always being written, but I will say over the last eight years, the cycles in my life have become profoundly more stable and loving thanks to two wonderful factors: the opportunity to grow food and the power of mindful eating.
My relationships with food, and with myself, have deeply transformed. So much so that I’ve committed my business and career to helping people walk the path of eating and lifestyle change with greater care, kindness and connection.
My relationship with food and eating is now quite a personal one that prioritizes:
I’ll never be one of those people who says “do what I did and you will have a perfect relationship with food like me!” Life is so diverse, rich, complex, challenging and interesting that such a promise would be so strange to me.
I tell my story here as one who continues to explore my relationship with food because I realize in an entirely honest way how our past stories and our current food and body culture influence us. This is an active journey, and it can be a fascinating, loving one.
What would it be like to spend some time thinking about your story with food & eating, perhaps as the beginning of a new chapter for you?
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