Relationship with Food Series Part 1: Acceptance of Who We are and Where We are
As promised a few weeks ago, we’re about to embark upon an adventure through our food stories, exploring our relationship with food. It took me a while to understand that in my own journey with food and cooking, there was another side to my interest in preparing delicious meals. I became a student of cooking when I was around 15 or 16, when I would gobble up all the cooking shows, and watched my uncle (the best cook I’ve ever known) deglaze pans to make elegant French sauces without any pretentious vibes whatsoever. I would study his techniques on everything from making a simple sandwich to the perfect artichokes with hollandaise sauce. I became obsessed. I began collecting recipes, filling up notebook after notebook as I watched The Food Network and when I finally found my chance (especially after I had Carlos to charm and impress), and started spending every bit of free time in the kitchen. What I didn’t know back then was that this thirst for culinary knowledge was also my way of dealing with something I wasn’t aware of at the time: my relationship with food had been tumultuous, it was in pain, and it needed a little support and help. Looking back I know that my interest in food was my way of looking into my relationship with food “without looking into it”, but thank goodness there came a day in which I couldn’t avoid shining a spotlight on it any longer. That was the day things really started to change.
As you probably know if you’re one of our My Brownble members, or you’ve taken any of our cooking courses, my interest in food and cooking never went away, and it’s still one of my favorite parts of the day, but along with developing the skills for tossing onions in a skillet, this has gone hand in hand with looking into and healing my relationship with food. It’s why neither side of this equation is ever missing in our content. One goes along for the ride with the other. We can’t talk about food and cooking without inherently dealing with our relationship with food, and we can’t talk about our relationship with food without talking about the act of eating and the food itself.
We’ve talked a lot about our relationship with food and finding healing with it through the process of intuitive eating, through the process of seeing how our consumer habits impact the world we live in, and through talks on body image and moving away from the dieting cycle many times in our blog and podcast before, but in this particular series we’re going a bit deeper. We’re taking a step back from seeing the consequences, symptoms or the causes of how complicated our relationship with food has become, and we’re going to look it straight in the eye, trying our best to understand it and find the tools that will help us reach a peaceful place with food.
Seeing what’s truly there
In my journey with food it was detrimental to finally be able to see what was actually there when it came to my relationship with it. It took me years to understand that it was there that I needed to start.
I had grown so accustomed to the cycle of restricting food through dieting, then overeating and bingeing, then trying to compensate with over-exercising, that it seemed natural and normal that when I started to feel physically uncomfortable with the amount of food I was eating, I would then simply pick a new diet from the shelf and start the process again. I thought this was what it meant to be an adult in a world that puts so much pressure on women when it comes to your physical appearance. So there I was, caught in a cycle of what I thought was overeating-then dieting and exercising to compensate, instead of seeing what was actually going on, the fact that it actually looked more like this: I would diet and restrict as a means to control, when I couldn’t do it any longer I would overeat (partly due to being underfed and unsatisfied, partly because of feeling so anxious), then I would restrict again (and overexercise to boot), and the cycle would continue like this for years and years. This was one layer of my relationship with food that took me years to figure out, but when I started digging I found even more nuances and layers of what was going on internally.
When I started digging I began to realize just how often I would eat to soothe difficult emotions. I also began to see how my desire to restrict, over exercise and lose weight had less to do with compensating for what I believed to be overeating or being “naughty” with food, and so much more to do with perfectionism.
Once I started down a weight loss path, I would get stricter and stricter, firmer and firmer with myself, I would add rules upon rules, and changes in my body were never quite enough so I always felt there was more to tweak and control. This had to do with that need for belonging, that need to fit in, but also a deep need to feel empowered and like there was something in my life that was under control when so many things were out of my control in my personal life.
After becoming vegan, something I did because it felt like the truest calling in my heart for choosing products and foods that would cause less harm to our fellow animals and our planet, I was such an easy prey to the focus on perfectionism and control that often surrounds the vegan community. I found even further ways to restrict because, well, they were there and I had found them (this is pretty much all it takes when you’re going down the weight loss/ perfectionism/ focus on pure and healthy foods rabbit hole). I fortunately found my way back and I’m still vegan for ethical reasons (now without all the unnecessary restrictions and much healthier for it), something that is deeply important to me, but all of these little cycles that were so damaging were the symptoms. They were the way my issues with food found to come up to the surface, but there was so much more that fell below my radar, my relationship with food in and of itself.
Every year a new layer of the onion reveals itself
Although now I’ve found a very peaceful place with food and with being vegan, I still have to work on keeping it this way. It takes frequent reminders because we live in a world that keeps us stuck in believing that we are not enough just as we are, and every year, with every new fork in the road, I get to see things about my relationship with food that I had never seen before.
You know I never invite you to go down a self-discovery journey unless I share some of my stories too, so here goes:
Through the years I’ve learned that food was the biggest source of emotional comfort for me, using food as my only coping tool for difficult situations. I’ve also learned that when things felt out of control in my personal life growing up (you can read a little of that story here), I quickly found that controlling my food intake was a great way to keep me distracted. Dieting is what many call a life thief. Dieting robs you of experiences, it takes a toll on your finances, your time, your social life, and you keep giving yourself the constant message that you are not enough, or that you will be enough “when…” (with that “when” line being moved every time I approached it). Dieting was so harmful for me, but it served as a coping tool for a while until I learned that it was the cause, not the consequence of my overeating and my feeling powerless over food.
I’ve also learned that when I approached eating from a purely nutritional or health-related perspective I was alienating a huge part of myself. That part that loved to cook and get creative in the kitchen, that part who shared so many beautiful experiences with loved ones around a table full of food. That part that was very much in tough with my hunger and fullness cues, as well as with my preferences and what foods were satisfying and fun for me before all the rules and regulations set up house.
Different Parts of Me at the Table
I’ve also discovered that there are different sides to me, and this is a common effect of going through trauma or difficulties as a child. There is a part of me who is free from food worries and feels so at ease and comfortable in the body she has. There is a part of me that is afraid of not belonging and feels like she needs to tweak as much as she can so that she is seen as “perfect”. There is a part of me who loves movement and chooses the fun dance classes or long walks in the woods because these are two things that have always made her happy, but there is also a part of me who will one day choose an overly gruelling workout she doesn’t enjoy, just because she feels it’s “what’s best”. There is a part of me who loves doing things other than preparing, or thinking about food and eating, and that sees food as pleasure and nourishment but can also set the topic aside and not even think about it until it’s the next time to eat. There is a part of me who has felt so alienated and restricted in the past that all she can do is think and dream about food all day, every day.
There is a part of me who knows what she likes and doesn’t like, what feels good and what doesn’t feel good, where the on and off switches are located, and how even our hunger and fullness signals are different every day, and so I can be flexible. There is another side of me that will eat anything that is put in front of her, that can’t listen to that internal voice no matter how loud it is. There is a part of me who rebels against dieting, and a part who rebels against intuitive eating and looking inwards for cues about how to eat. All of these parts are me, and they all take their turn showing up when I sit down to eat. It was a huge step forward when I managed to see this, understanding what these parts of me needed, and surprise surprise it wasn’t always food related. Nor was it related to having the perfect body or wanting to restrict.
It has been so helpful in my own journey with food to be able to rummage through them and learn when and why each of these sides of me helped me cope, and which are not needed anymore. It was enormously helpful to be able to learn what each of these sides of me needed to feel at peace (sometimes it was unconditional permission to eat, sometimes it was saying no to things and responsibilities I didn’t want to take on, sometimes it was finding peace with my body, sometimes it was questioning the messages I was receiving from society about my body). It was also helpful to bring my adult self and all the information I had learned, and sit down at the table connecting to that side of me that feels autonomy with food choices (which we all have as this is the way we were born). The part of me that could eat without guilt and cook and eat with pleasure and peace of mind, that had neutrality when it came to a head of broccoli or a chocolate chip cookie.
When I started seeing all of these layers within me, and how the circumstances of my life had created all these different experiences with food as a coping tool, I was able to give these younger versions of myself what they truly needed (through journaling -my favorite tool for self-discovery- or meditating), and I was able to let the more intuitive and peaceful side of myself be the one that made the decisions at the table.
With every year that passed I discovered new layers in my relationship with food, new layers in my relationship with my body, new layers in my relationship with exercise and movement. It was so important to not only have the tools to heal my relationship with food, but there had to be so much introspection. So much healing had to be done on the inside, so that when I was armed with information and support, it could reach all those little crevices and I could begin to heal my relationship with food.
A little recent discovery
Growing up I had learned from my mom and my uncle (yes the wonderful cook who taught me so much of what I know), that food was something to be cherished . I grew up loving the process of creating foods and appreciating all its tastes and textures. I had also copied a lot of habits and responses to food from them. I realized recently that the series of bingeing episodes I had throughout my life and the moments of severe overeating were always in the company of one person. I had learned everything good in my life from them but without realizing I had also learned that food would arrive in rare moments of stillness and celebration, and that it had to be consumed ravenously. I saw with my own two eyes time and time again how it was always about getting more than was needed, about scarfing down food without possibly being able to enjoy and savour it, about learning that moments of obsession with food needed to be acknowledged and consumed before the good times ended. Even after all I’ve learned, I keep peeling back the onion and noticing that there are still layers to be revealed.
This is why I decided to start this relationship with food series from the perspective of seeing where we truly are right now and where we’ve been. Learning to accept that where we are is the starting point and with the proper tools and resources we can begin to climb out from there. In my experience, truly healing your relationship with food and finding peace with it (and by peace with food I mean leaving both the rules and regulations behind as well as the perfectionism and guilt) can’t truly happen without digging deep and finding where all of these sides of us came from, and where they are now.
A little detective homework
This is just the first little step, so grab a journal and a pen and begin digging deep to find what’s below the surface of your relationship with food. Then think of where your are now and see it all as part of the journey. Write down anything that comes to mind. If you find different parts of you that pop up when you’re sitting down to eat, describe them. Try to find where it is they came from and what it is they actually needed or need now. I know this type of exercise can be tough, especially if you’ve never journaled before, but just let your stream of consciousness flow through the page, write down what comes to mind and see what you discover.
Had I not had the struggles I’ve had with food I wouldn’t have been able to shed a light on the subject and begun to heal things that actually had nothing to do with food. It can be so helpful to go through this process with a qualified therapist, or by letting a registered dietitian nutritionist or nutritional therapist guide you through this process (try finding one without a weight-centric approach, such as within the registry of intuitive eating professionals or here). This is especially important if you suspect you might be struggling with disordered eating, an eating disorder, or are in the process of recovery from one.
There is so much below the surface, and for this week I want you to do a little exploration into who it is we are with food, where we are right now with food and what experiences led us to the spot we hold at the moment. From there, from that space of discovery and of absolute honesty, we can begin to heal our relationship with food. Next week we’ll be doing so with a bit more exploration with part 2, in which we’ll explore our food stories by riding a bike down memory lane. Stay tuned.
Some of the resources mentioned in the podcast and which can help you so much on your journey:
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Taylor Wolfram, an intuitive eating registered dietitian nutritionist who also specializes in vegan nutrition