Food is Your (and My) Friend

I’ve recently learned something interesting about myself.

I’m afraid of food.

I know. It sounds silly. Who could be afraid of food? We interact with it all the time and every day. And I am by no means a small person (I have lots and lots of extra padding), so how could I possibly be afraid of food? It surprised me too!

But I am. I’m working on it.

I haven’t always been fat (yes, the scary “F” word! I throw the other “F” word around freely, so why not this one as well?). I was fit and athletic and healthy through the first half of high school. Then (with the assistance of an arrogant and irresponsible PE teacher), I hurt my back. I stopped taking PE at school. I also found a boyfriend who I was comfortable eating in front of (I had a serious hangup about eating in front of people I was dating before this — may have been more fit, but certainly didn’t have a healthy relationship with food even then. I later married this boyfriend). And a bad earlier relationship led me to want to hide my body a bit. It was weight gain in the making! I also now know that I had developed Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and issues with my thyroid. Those didn’t help.

I gained more than 30 pounds in 6 months. I started being bullied at school. Girls would throw notes across the room into a group of my friends asking if I was pregnant. They would call me names as we passed in the hallways. Somehow someone even convinced an abortion clinic that they were me and were seeking an abortion. The clinic called my parents and we had an incredibly uncomfortable conversation in the middle of my mom’s office (irony is PCOS makes it incredibly hard for me to get pregnant in the first place!)

I started both paying way too much attention to what I was eating and completely ignoring it all at the same time. I loved and hated food. I blamed it for everything, but also turned to it when I needed support I didn’t feel like I was getting in other places.

As I got older, I started dieting in earnest. I joined Weight Watchers. I lost some weight. I was sure I could do it on my own, so I quit. I gained it back and then some. I tried something else. I did the same. I tried something else. I did the same. For years and years, the same pattern spending thousands and thousands of dollars buying pills and patches and meals and gadgets joining groups, seeing therapists, chatting via email and online. You name it, I’ve tried it (or wanted to).

Last year, I completed a year-long health coaching program to figure out what I was doing wrong. And I constantly blamed myself. So what if I seemed to be eating less than all the skinny people around me? I clearly just needed to eat even less. As long as I counted calories and fat, I would lose the weight, right? Wrong. If “everyone” else could do it, why couldn’t I?

And how could I keep my daughter from doing the same thing?

That was the kicker. That was what got me started on thinking, in earnest, about my relationship with food. That was what started me really thinking about my relationship with food. I had spent much of my life learning about “good” foods and “bad” foods. I had eaten all those fat-free “edible food-like substances” that were supposed to be the secret to health. I had cut carbs. I had added carbs. I stopped using salt (which I was later ordered by a cardiologist to add because, I learned, I have vasovagal syncope, which landed me in ICU for a lovely 3-day stay!). I owned a treadmill and an elliptical and a reformer and a yoga mat and more exercise DVDs than should be allowed.

It was when recently having a conversation with one my nephews that I started to figure everything out. He was telling me about what foods were “bad.” I explained that I didn’t think that word should apply. As a person and a parent, I have often talked about how “good” and “bad” are social constructs. I spent a solid class period during my Master’s program arguing that dichotomies like this are simplistic and detrimental (most of the other students just thought I was nuts). I try not to use the words, especially with kids. I have never told Pkin she is being bad (or good, for that matter).

But I realized that even though I was telling my nephew this and even though I live much of my life this way, I haven’t yet moved beyond the “good” v “bad” in my relationship to food. I still thought of things this way and I still applauded or punished myself based on how my meals fit within that duality.

So, like I said, I’m working on it.

A couple months ago, about the time I started planting things in my small vegetable garden out back, I started exploring some old-school food ideas. Through some holistic-minded moms in my area, I got some water kefir babies and tried my hand at making kefir. My first batch was, frankly, awful. I thought maybe it was just me. I tried to force myself to drink it because it’s “good” for me (like so many other things I have forced myself to eat or not eat over the years). I didn’t like it. So I stopped and sat around being disappointed with myself.

Then one day I decided to try it again. I didn’t ferment it as long. I tasted it along the way. And it worked! It was really tasty (to me, anyway — I haven’t convinced Pkin or DH yet). I gave myself a pat on the back. And then I made some sauerkraut and kimchi. When DH brought me a taste of the sauerkraut so I could see if it was ready, I think I literally giggled. I made sauerkraut! And it was yummy! And it tasted like sauerkraut! And once the kimchi was ready, I tasted it. And it was tasty! I could actually do this!

I tried canning. I was scared to death that I was going to do who knows what (no clue why boiling water with pasta in it is normal, but boiling water with mason jars in it was terrifying). I made strawberry jam. And it tasted delicious! I think I giggled then too. So I made cherry pie filling (and used some of it to make mini-cherry pies — with pie crust I made myself). And it was fabulous!

And then I started to figure it out. I had spent so long not eating actual food and so long being told and convinced that I didn’t know how to “be” around real food, that I was afraid of it. But where had all that fear gotten me?

I once had a friend tell me he sees food as fuel. I’ve heard that from many before and since. I once thought that’s where I wanted to be. That that would be my ticket to health. But that isn’t it either. I don’t want to just be a car that you put gas into when needed. I want to enjoy food! I want to explore all the amazing tastes it has. I’m a big believer in evolution. If food is only supposed to be fuel, then why, on Earth, have we evolved to be able to experience so many difference flavors? And why, on Earth, have foods with so many different tastes evolved as well?

Yeah. Not so much.

I will make friends with food. I plan to invite it over for dinner. We’ll have a good chat. And I’ll actually enjoy every bite.

At least…that’s the plan.

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Filed under balance, food, health, wellness

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