Let’s Talk Perceptions, Interactions, and Relations to Food
How often do you ask yourself what your relationship with food is like? I can’t be the only one who stuffs their face in front of the computer screen or munches on a croissant while driving to work. I skip breakfast sometimes. I snack all day. My body is, sometimes, a way to measure whether I’m deserving of a meal or not. And on my best days, I eat full, wholesome meals, am completely present with my food, and feel awesome about that.
My relationship isn’t perfect. We’re on good terms, then we’re not. It fluctuates. And I want to interact with food guilt-free, but even when I’m eating healthy I can find myself wondering if I should even be eating at all.
Eating is how we provide energy for our daily activities and nurture our bodies. It is something we must do to keep ourselves alive, so how come eating rituals and mindful practices surrounding food have strayed away? How come eating is so simple, yet so complicated? How can we create a healthy relationship with food?
Where do our issues surrounding food and food consumption stem from?
It seems fairly recent that our Western society has begun to engage in certain eating habits such as mindless eating. We’ve let the dust collect on our traditional practices, our connections withering away, in many ways. We cling to a capitalist society that doesn’t have the time to sit down for a second and have quality time with their food.
The work, work, work mentality is harmful to our overall health. There’s an overwhelming feeling and/or habit of turning our hobbies into jobs, and on the other end of that, being as tired as we are, everyday activities like brushing your teeth begin to feel like work as well. These things shouldn’t be so taxing, and life should be enjoyable. Even the little things, like getting ready in the morning, could be made into pleasant practices.
It may not be often that you have the time to go grocery shopping and prepare meals from scratch. Taking the shortcut has become all too common in food preparation, ranging from in our homes to in the factories, bakeries, and farms our food comes from.
This is something that’s very alarming to me. As we’ve strayed away from the slow way of life, we’ve become more inclined to everything quickly, which is part in parcel to having a population that has dramatically increased. And this directly affects food preparation. Everything becomes go, go, go, or on-the-go. It’s quantity over quality. A lot of really important things have become more commercially motivated. It’s hard to have some sort of judgment over what’s right and wrong because we don’t know what goes on behind the counter, what exactly is put in our food, and how it’s prepared.
On the other hand, we can’t escape slimming tea ads and fast food commercials alike- not to mention the glorification of super-sized meals and allowance of this by government regulations. How we should and shouldn’t interact with food may not be explicitly said, but it is implied. For years, the media has pressed ideal body images. I acknowledge that the ideal body image has diversified, but there’s one thing that remains consistent, even as we charge forward with body positivity- the taboo of having fat.
We may deny that there is still a weight war going on behind the curtain, but losing weight is praised. No one ever congratulates you on gaining weight. Yet, when you’re finally super skinny, you need to “put some meat on your bones”. Growing up, I remember dieting program commercials were on the tv all the time. When you go to the supermarket, low-fat labels and I can’t believe it’s not butter! follow you through the aisles. Even social media, what was once a fun place to see what your friends were up to, has now become a sea of influencers sharing their “weight loss secret”, though behind closed doors they have consistently healthy diets and personal trainers. Bodies are everywhere, and comparison is too. How do we keep tabs of what’s actually healthy for our bodies in specific? Not someone through a screen or on the TV? How do we know this label is for us and not for someone else?
A peer of mine said something really relatable in class about how we perceive fat. We had been discussing the diets of traditional cultures- what they had in common and what kept them so healthy, even without the help of modern technology, doctors, dentists, and pharmaceuticals. Of course, there’s a list of things, but one thing we noticed was many of their high-fat diets (when I say high-fat, I mean naturally occurring healthy fats, like omega 3s- something that we don’t have much of in our modern diet!). Not only this, but when you look back in time, people’s perception of fat was completely different. Fat used to be a good sign- a sign of wealth. You were “eating good”.
In our modern society, low-fat is what you look to to lose weight. It’s what’s said to be healthy. And yes, that may be true according to your health concerns and in relation to unhealthy fats, but our ancestors used to cook in tallow and lard! And besides that point, our body fat is just what is leftover from what our body 1) didn’t use as nutrients, and 2) didn’t eliminate. My peer stopped and had to ask herself- why are we so quick to judge and demonize fat? Fats were important! And still are. It’s what our body turns to for energy, our protection, how we help preserve our health (acknowledging that anything in excess can affect our health as well). Why is it suddenly something unattractive? Why don’t we celebrate healthy bodies that have fat?
I see myself pick at my fat in the mirror before dinner, pulling at it as if it’s something that “must go!”. I watch my friends make comments about their weight almost every time I see them. And when I explicitly asked them where they think their own negative view and relationship with food comes from- they replied FAT!
Because of all this, food becomes our enemy. We must acknowledge that normal bodies exist, and they are beautiful. It’s so sad that so many people feel ashamed, are defined by this, and let it affect their relationship with food. It could be something that helps us heal, and what we should be doing is taking care of ourselves and listening to our bodies and what feels good. We need to stop shying away from changing our toxic lifestyles- that’s how we’ll change it for ourselves and for everyone around us.
Food can just as well be an emotional cushion. I know that when I’ve had a stressful or overly emotional day, I reach for sweet foods like chocolate. I’ll go for a giant, super-sized bowl of my favorite comfort food. Then chips. Then candy gummies. And I almost never feel good after I’ve stuffed myself past the brim.
Overeating can be just as harmful to our bodies as not eating at all. It puts stress on the body. And we end up making the connection to our brain that eating is the best way to pacify the emotions we’re feeling, instead of dealing with them. We turn to food when we’re looking for something.
We have to ask ourselves what we’re doing when consuming. Is it for our best and our optimal health? When I think about it, what I’m really looking for when I eat like that is a hug. That sensation of my belly feeling full makes me feel whole. I’m overcompensating for what I’m not receiving.
Where does our food come from?
For most of us, it’s the supermarket. But our food has a whole journey before it gets to us. The supermarket just gives us easy access and because of this, we’re disconnected from the land our food was grown on. If you’ve ever had your own garden, you probably know the elation of picking that fresh, red tomato off the vine from your own backyard. Close your eyes- can you remember what that smells like? Sweet, sunkissed Earth. Can you remember what the hairy leaves felt like in the palm of your hand, and how they tickled your cheeks as you reached down to pick the perfectly ripe fruit? Can you remember the beautiful bright red sparkling in contrast to the dark soil and green grass? Can you remember the gratitude you felt as you cut it to sprinkle over a salad or made into a sauce?
Without this connection, we have lost that gratitude to some extent. We’ve become senseless to the food on our plate- to the soil and water and sun that nurtured the potato you’re having for dinner. Imagine how much closer and more passionate we would be if we were the ones growing and picking our food. How much more we would savor those potent flavors in our mouths? How much slower we’d eat. Even just how much more we’d appreciate those who labor to bring our food to us, knowing how much work it is to tend to life. How much closer to mother nature we would be as we witness the miracle that is the creation of life. How much more we would advocate for organic, non-GMO food, and environmentally conscious farming practices.
How can you heal your relationship to food?
There are many unhealthy ways to interact with food (too many for me to name)- all for your own reasons and perhaps for one of the reasons above. There may be past trauma associated with eating or food. You may have a health concern that defines your relationship with food. Body image might be the battle you’re fighting at this moment. Or at the very least, what you eat might not matter to you at all. You might not care what you put in your body and don’t care how it affects you or makes you feel. But I promise that it does matter. Our relationship to food is important, and our bodies aren’t garbage disposals.
Being careful about my weight is a huge factor in my outlook on food. Eating itself is a subject that requires deep thought and careful interaction to keep myself from slipping into destructive habits. Self-punishment by denying myself food and being hard on myself after binge-eating are two things that I need to protect myself from and have struggled greatly with in the past. Because I had these two extremes, I catch myself thinking a certain way about myself and food, so subtly to the point where I almost miss it.
It’s easy to tell myself I can’t eat this or that and then feel bad about it. And harder to eat what my body is telling me to and to just feel good about that. But like most things, recognizing that is the first step, and from there, I’m able to constructively pick apart my thoughts and actions, so that I don’t have to feel that way anymore and finally have a healthy relationship with food.
Some Questions I Like to Ask Myself Are:
- How/what do I think of food?
- How do I feel when I think of eating and when I eat?
- Am I present while I’m eating?
- What does presence look like to me?
- What negative thoughts or feelings do I have surrounding food and eating?
- Why do I have these thoughts/feelings?
- How do these thoughts affect my relationship with food?
- Does my view about my body influence my relationship with food/eating?
- Do my general emotions and mental state affect my relationship with food?
- Do I have any restrictive habits or negative patterns I place on myself regarding food/eating?
- What foods make me feel good?
- What foods make me feel bad?
- What do I want my relationship with food to look like?
- How can I make that reality?
It could be good to keep a journal on hand to answer these questions and see how you feel as you go. You can log your habits/patterns, as well as the food you’re eating. You might just find the root cause of your problem. And this way, you can chart your different paths to see what works to get where you want to be.
Tips for Building a Healthy Relationship with Food
- Explore yourself, and seek to release whatever guilt surrounds food and eating.
- Practice mindful eating.
- Sit with your food. Smell it. Notice it. Look at each bite as you eat it.
- This might look to you like saying a prayer before each meal or simply just thanking the spirit of the food that’s on your plate and where it came from.
- Practice mindful habits surrounding food.
- This might look like scheduling time out of your day to really be present while grocery shopping, meal prepping at the beginning of the week if you’re too busy to do so throughout the week, or cooking meals from scratch.
- Listen to your body and what it’s asking for!
- Eat the foods that make you body feel the best.
- Indulge in moderation.
- Talk to people about how you’re feeling. A friend. A therapist. Your mom. Whoever you feel comfortable with. 🙂
Food is our sustenance. And past this, food can be our best medicine. You can have all the drugs or herbs or whatever in the world, and it still won’t work because the one thing you must change is your diet. There are no supplements out there that can match the pureness and quality assimilation with your body like real food. And we interact with it day in and day out, so why not take the extra time out to really care. Make it into a special little something, a ritual. It can make all the difference.
Doing these things helped me become closer to the food I consume and the act of eating it. Even though I’ve felt so many ways about food, and it affects my body in constantly changing ways, at the end of the day- I’m truly a foodie. It’s something I want to enjoy, always.
I’ve begun to realize that when I consume food without guilt and with happiness, love, and gratitude- my body recognizes that. My entire physical being feels better. I digest better. And that all ties in and makes me a happier person who doesn’t have to worry too much!