“But I deserve a second piece of cake – work has been so stressful!”
“Might as well live it up – this stuffed pepperoni pizza isn’t going to eat itself!”
“I’ve been depriving myself all week – why shouldn’t I eat this whole bag of Oreos? I deserve it.”
“I can’t throw out this banana cream pie – that would be wasteful!”
These are the things we tell ourselves – our justifications for why we continually treat our bodies like garbage cans. We rationalize destructive behavior and we do so with the words we choose. For many, our relationship with food is fraught with guilt, shame, and embarrassment. No wonder we use words like good, bad, binge, and cheat, to describe our categories and interactions with food.
And it is also no coincidence that the first three letters of the word diet spell die.
We all know people or we ourselves have:
Looked in the mirror and said “fat!”
Compared ourselves to others.
Ate next to nothing on a dinner date, only to come home and binge eat when all alone.
Said, “As soon as I lose x amount of weight, I will…”
Ate until our stomachs hurt.
Then ate some more.
Made ourselves throw up.
Felt guilty about eating something
Weigh ourselves excessively and obsessively
Avoided weighing ourselves excessively and obsessively
Lied about what we ate
Cried about what we ate
This Valentine’s day, when we are surrounded by pink and red hearts and bombarded with ads for flowers, chocolates, and happy couples, think about what it really means to love ourselves. Consider “treating” ourselves with behaviors and activities that show we love and respect our bodies. Words are so powerful; they can hurt and they can heal. When we get stuck in a mind-rut of thinking of food in terms of punishment and reward, it is truly no surprise that we have a culturally collective psychosis surrounding food. And everyone has a comment, right?
At the grocery store, the amount of “healthy” food in my cart will often elicit some kind of comment like, “wow – you must be a vegetarian,” or a “you sure eat healthy!” My grocery store ventures are even more interesting lately as every few days I am forced to buy several dozen heads of Romaine lettuce for my increasingly temperamental geese. Even with the recent e. coli contamination, I offered to take what the store couldn’t legally sell:
Cashier: “Wow. You must really like lettuce.”
Me: “Why, yes! It’s my favorite food!”
The thing that always makes me laugh though is the realization that had I loaded my cart with the same amount of frozen pizzas and liters of pop, no one would have raised an eyebrow. Why is that?
But think again about the words we use to describe our relationships with food. Are we living our lives with the idea that to be healthy and to eat healthy is somehow an act of deprivation? How fully have we succumbed to the idea that food (and especially junk food) is a reward? How can we ever develop a healthy relationship with food if we are carrying around so much baggage about it?
The honest answer is: we can’t.
Until we can realize and actually physically feel that a nutritious meal is one of the greatest acts of self love and care we can give, we will be stuck carrying that same baggage.
Now, no one thinks it’s a good thing to eat kale and lettuce all day (well, maybe my geese), but most of us have some awareness of how food makes us feel – and I don’t mean the taste as we chew and swallow, like “Oh God chocolate!” but how we physically and emotionally feel after we eat. Do we feel bloated? Tired? Crampy? Flushed? Heart burn? Guilty? Sluggish? Does it feel like we have a brain fog or that we can’t concentrate? That means that our body is sending us a message about the fuel we just put in it.
I’m not keen on using an “engine analogy” as I am totally unqualified to do so, but it reminds me of when I start my lawnmower and do the first spring mow. If I fill the tank with the crummy old gas that’s been sitting around in the garage for the past few years, of course the mower runs choppy and I’m lucky the thing doesn’t conk out before I even finish. Apply this to food: if we fill our own gas tanks with inferior food, our bodies aren’t going to run properly either. And here’s the real kicker: it gets even worse over time.
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
So. What can we do about this going forward? Now obviously this isn’t an instant or overnight thing. We have to work on changing our attitude toward healthy food as well as our feelings about ourselves and how we take care of our physical bodies. Healthy food, food that is lovingly prepared, with simple, fresh, natural ingredients is as much joy to the pallet as it is to the body. Eating should be relaxed and enjoyable. When we feed our bodies with good, wholesome food, it impacts all the other areas of our lives, too: We feel more balanced and comfortable in our own skin. We feel good. We sleep better. We make better choices. We feel more emotionally stable. And here’s the real kicker: it gets even better over time.
What small steps can we take today to incorporate healthy food choices into our meals?
What is one simple act of love and self care that we can gift to ourselves today?
One of my favorite indulgent treats that I enjoy lovingly preparing as much as I do eating are these Vegan Brownies.