Confessions of a Weird Breakfast Eater: Thoughts on Taste Buds, Desire and Mindfullness
Every morning, when Carlos and I sit at our little breakfast table on the terrace, something happens. As I stare at the toast in front of me ready to decide what to top it with, I can feel a glaring stare. When I look up, even after being together for 17 years at this point, he looks at me like I'm a little alien creature.
A funny foodie alien.
A sweet and savory alien.
A full-blown breakfast alien.
I smile, take a bite and make exaggerated "yum" noises as I look at him and he smiles. He smiles because he knows by now there's no way around this. He married a weird breakfast eater. I smile because my taste buds are doing a happy dance, because I just gave them exactly the right amount of weirdness they desired.
As you know if you've been a long time reader of this blog or listener of our podcast, and especially if you're a member of our online program, that the number one thing that saved me from years of a tumultuous relationship with food and dieting was simplifying, leaving dieting and all its rules behind, and especially, making mindful eating my number one priority.
Eating mindfully means you're in tune with your real hunger and fullness signals, you're completely present during the moment of eating, you're in touch with your stomach, your tongue and the flavors and textures of the food. It means you take your time with eating and it means you say goodbye to gadgets, TV, and anything but good conversation at the table. It means you go into your body and how you're feeling throughout your meal instead of leaving it. This idea of "leaving it" might seem odd to you, but it was something that happened to me at every single meal and snack when I was a child, teenager and young adult. Since overeating and eating emotionally were my besties back then, eating was the moment to zone out, instead of zoning in. Zoning in, is the essence of mindful eating and learning how to eat when you're hungry and stop when you're full.
Years later when I started to heal what was at the root of my messy relationship with food and found out about eating mindfully and all that came with that, things started to quickly change, but one thing wasn't quite there yet. I was missing a few parts of that equation, and one of the most important pieces, was satisfaction.
In order to really listen to my body, know when I was comfortably full and realize I could eat again when I was hungry, I needed to listen to my body and give it the foods that would be totally satisfying. Nutrition plays a part in these choices, but this should always go hand in hand with satisfaction and pleasure as well.
We live in a world that loves to give us rules when it comes to everything that fills our day. We've been programmed to think that we can't decide what is good for us without external cues or rules. We've forgotten how to trust ourselves with food and with the ways our bodies feel. It's why the dieting industry is a multi-billion dollar one, they've told us time and time again we don't know what we're doing, and they've sold us the books and programs that conveniently tell us how to fix that. These messages have become so engrained in our psyche that we've lost touch with our own inner wisdom. The problem is that when external food rules of what is allowed and what isn't set up house, these start separating us from our true signals, and how our bodies have all the information we need when it comes to managing our intake of food.
When I talk about that satisfaction and pleasure with food, people always give me that dubious look. They tell me that it feels too decadent, too indulgent. It feels like a free pass to a land of zero control. To me it was actually quite the opposite. It meant I started feeling normal with food again, knowing that I could enjoy my food, that all the food rules of my previous diets had left the building. It meant that when I was totally satisfied, I could actually feel my body more and prevent the uncomfortable feelings and physical ailments that I was so used to by then, due to chronic overeating.
The only side effect? You guessed it! Full weird alien breakfast status. Plus a husband who still does not get it.
The first time I started feeling that my taste buds were telling me something, was after my first month of trying yoga, many moons ago. I remember going back home after class and feeling that I wanted to have nothing but vegetables and fruits, often in weird combinations. Often together. Sometimes I craved pasta with a very untraditional sauce, or the strange combination of dessert and popcorn. Another thing that started happening back then is my previously carnivorous self stopped craving meat, pork and chicken. Foods that had always been my favorite part of a meal!
When I asked a fellow yogini after class one day if she had experienced something similar, I had a whole circle of women joining in the conversation to tell me their own stories of now craving vegetables they were never interested in before, and how their meals were changing. Not surprising since one of the wonderful side effects of yoga or any mindfullness activity like meditation is calming the mind, and getting back into the body. I'm pretty sure yoga doesn't transform your preferences, it just helps silence the clutter and you suddenly start paying attention to lots of inner desires and cues.
My switch to a vegan diet came years later when after a LONG hiatus from yoga I took it up again and the same changes started happening naturally to my eating. I still loved the taste of meat and animal products (in fact I still do to this day), but it was one of the things that made me want to research what vegetarians and vegans ate, why they chose to eat that way. After that, aka researching what was behind our consumption of animal products, the choice started taking a life of its own and suddenly there I was, a very happy vegan.
This post and episode is not about veganism or about eating more vegetables or saying goodbye to meat. This post is about the lessons my taste buds have taught me, and how when I listen closely, being mindful when I eat follows, and how in turn, this brought me healing and breathing room for the first time in years when it came to food.
By now you might be curious as to what an alien breakfast looks like. Every morning as Carlos takes a bite of his pb and j toast, I'm in the kitchen sautéing mushrooms with oregano and tamari soy sauce, adding that on top of some mashed avocado on toast, and topping everything with nutritional yeast. Sometimes it's a combo of hummus, cherry tomatoes and sauerkraut, and a second piece of toast topped with peanut butter and fruit. Sometimes it's leftover potatoes topped with pesto and some leftover veggies. It was my taste buds that told me that when there's leftover miso soup in the fridge it must be eaten, and any time of day is game. that some days black beans topped with salsa and greens are perfect in the morning. My taste buds taught me that after years of having cereal for breakfast I really didn't like it, that if I was craving something sweet, it was the maple syrup on top of my pancakes that would give me the perfect dose of satisfaction and pleasure, and that when I was having what I really wanted, two pancakes were plenty when before I could have eaten 3 or 4. This is all on days in which Carlos is giving me his glaring stare, but when he's not at home or out to lunch with co-workers and I'm at home with lots of ingredients at my disposal, things get even weirder! Salad for breakfast, check! Greek style spinach with garlic and lemon next to some yogurt and fruit, check! Tofu and soy sauce, check! Frittata topped with a bit of tartar sauce, check! Traditional pancakes or French toast, yup, these are also part of my repertoire.
The more I listened to what would really satisfy me, the more my eating went back to normal, and the more I was able to tune into my body and how hungry or full I was. It doesn't only apply to breakfast though! Lunch and dinner were also along for the ride, only there my alien status isn't as obvious, because beans and salsa in a burrito seems more traditional, and breakfast for dinner is now considered cool and fun. Let's call me an undercover alien during lunch and dinner. Snacks are also particularly strange, since one of my favorite things to have as snacks are actually savory leftovers from any of my crazy combinations, grilled vegetables with hummus being my absolute favorite, or blueberries with a side of salty almonds. Yes, sometimes I have a smoothie or sweet treat too.
Embracing your food alien status not only helps with being mindful when you eat, it can also help you on your journey to being vegan, when you're suddenly facing a plate that can look very different to the one you used to have in your meat eating days. It can help you regain "boss" status, i.e. you and only you should decide what your plate of food looks like.
All over the world people have their own traditions when it comes to food. In Japan, tofu with fish and soy sauce or sticky smelly natto (a bean dish) is eaten for breakfast. In Ghana people have waakye, rice cooked in beans. In Thailand people start the day with a fish cooked in mint leaves, served with sweet and sour pork over rice. In Hungary, otherwise traditional puff pastries are eaten, but they're stuffed with fermented cabbage. In Turkey, all of the following make an appearance for breakfast: olives, jam, honey, meat, cheese, tomatoes, eggs and cucumbers! Chilaquiles are served in Mexico and arepas in Venezuela. Go to different corners of the world and you'll find a different "normal" way to start the day. Same thing happens with lunch, dinner, snacks and dessert. My idea? Create your own meal traditions, give your eating country a name, design a flag and stick it on top of your crazy concoctions. Sound fun right? It's total food autonomy and it will make meals exciting and satisfying.
When people ask me what my favorite meal of the day is, I always say breakfast, and I think it's because it's where I've embraced my alien eating status the most. Since I know Carlos will be looking at me funny anyway, I actually take the time to listen carefully to what I feel like eating. It has helped me have fun, it has helped me get more creative in the kitchen, and it has helped me practice mindful eating and improve my relationship with food. Next time you're heading into the kitchen to cook or assemble your next meal, as yourself: "What do I want?", "What would really satisfy me right now?", start being a little detective, and then pay close attention during the moment of eating, be mindful and listen to your own cues and wisdom when it comes to what and how much to eat. Nutrition is definitely a part of this, but pleasure and satisfaction should always be a part of the game, even if this makes you a weird breakfast alien like me.