My relationship to food, like most Americans is complicated. It is the part of my quest for health that I am still trying to get a handle on. I realize that this kind of “problem” is actually a privilege that much of the world does not have the resources or opportunity to have. I want to be able to maintain a healthy weight and feel good. I am fortunate to have a group of people, my adopted family, who are on this same quest for total wholeness.
When my husband first became ill he was in intense pain. I was anxious about him constantly. It often felt like I couldn’t get a deep breath in and the knot in my stomach made it hard to stand up straight. It was hard to choke down food when I felt this way. I was getting dressed one morning after several months like this, and realized that my shorts just started to slip down after I had buttoned them up. Alarmed I jumped on the scale to realize that I had lost 20lbs without even realizing it.
I knew I had to start eating more, even while ignoring that knot in my stomach. Through trial and error I found that there were several foods that I could eat even when I wasn’t feeling my best: eggs, watermelon, cherry tomatoes and chicken. I was able to use this knowledge again after my husband died to help sustain me until my appetite picked up again.
Grief added a hefty dose of nausea to my eating difficulties that lasted about six months. I became so frustrated with feeling sick all the time that I gave up on healthy eating. I figured that I may as well eat anything I want, because I felt awful whether I was eating a healthy salad or a candy bar. I reasoned, at least it would taste good. I indulged in whatever I wanted. In short order I gained about 25lbs. I have been trying to come back from that ever since, and the scale has been going up and down for the last year.
There are other emotional aspects of my relationship with food that come in to play as well. This past weekend I wanted to hang out and watch a movie, complete with special treats from my local bakery. Snuggled up with my dog I tuned in to “Call the Midwife” on Netflix. I ate a cookie, then some popcorn and another cookie. When I finished, I realized that none of it had been as satisfying as I imagined it would be. The next day in thinking about the whole situation I realized that I had been trying to recapture the feelings of movie night like I used to have with my husband. The treats didn’t taste the same because I was trying to fill an emotional hunger with physical food.
Over the years I have tried various diets and nutritional systems. With some I lost some weight, but wasn’t able to maintain it long term. Some of them had foods, supplements, and powders that just plain tasted bad. Some made me feel ill. Some were too expensive, or the foods were hard to obtain, or took too much work to prepare. I now some general guidelines that work for me.
Strict restrictive diets are not for me. I don’t feel good on high or low macronutrient diets. I am more satisfied with a balance of protein, carbs, fats, and yes, the occasional sweet treat.
I find food diaries and frustrating. I feel like I am always backtracking to fill in something I missed. Same for calorie counting. It makes food too much work.
I am not a great cook, nor is meal preparation something I delight in, so meals have to be easy to prepare. For this reason I usually have some protein powder around that I can make into a shake with some fruit, chia seeds or spices thrown in.
I like to have food that is locally grown and/or organic. I will try to go this route if it is reasonably easy to obtain and affordable. This way I know I am getting the best produce and helping out local farmers.
Regardless of what the latest superfood is touted to be, if I don’t like the taste, it’s not for me. One example of this is avocado. I know all about how good they are for you, and how many different ways you can prepare, or attempt to disguise avocado. I can force it down, but why do that when the world is full of so many other foods I like?
I make a point to notice how foods make me feel. Do I feel good after eating it? Does it give me lasting energy? Mango is a feel good food for me in addition to the others I mentioned above. Sushi used to be a feel good food for me, somewhere along the line that changed.
Oddly, I’ve discovered that my favorite foods are either bland or a mix of many flavors. I love oatmeal, plain oatmeal. Eggs boiled, scrambled, poached or fried, straight up, no salt. On the other end of the spectrum I love a salad that has slightly bitter greens with some berries or apples (sweet), tomatoes and cucumbers (sour) and dressing (salty). Fish tacos with mango salsa has the perfect blend of sweet, salty, spicy and sour.
Meals are better when I make them a sensory experience. The way my food looks on my plate is a joy to my eyes. The feel of the fork in my hand and the texture of the food in my mouth engage my sense of touch. The aromas and flavors enhance my enjoyment. Eating connects the body, mind and spirit in a tangible way.
It’s taken a lot of years to get to this point, but it has been worth it. Hopefully my experiences will help you get to a place of peace with food much sooner than I did.