Our Relationship With Food

From Table Magazine, Summer 2008

food-relFood is life – or at least one of the biggest parts of it. The idea of food rolls around at least three times a day for most of us, whether we are finding lunch during a workday, planning dinner for a family or figuring out what to eat when we get done with our daily workout.

Food is our very, very close friend, who is always there in our thoughts, our plans and our time, and it isn’t going away. It can be a source of physical, mental and social health or the lack of it. One of the healthiest friendships, and a central focus of life or a drudgery. We enjoy and take pleasure in it or resist, avoid, and struggle with it. But the quality of your relationship with food is one of the largest determinants of your life, your health and your happiness.

Why is our relationship with food such a burning topic (no pun intended to the less than excellent cooks)? First, let’s look at the mixed messages we encounter everyday that imply a love-hate relationship with food. You may ask yourself, “Why do magazines with titles such as Health News Today have a stick figure of a model on the cover, carry articles on cutting cholesterol and top them off with articles on the best chocolate fudge cake recipes?”

The magazines would suggest that you can have it all. You can be a great cook, eat chocolate until you begin to dream in chocolate, still be healthy and look like you did 20 years ago. Since these things appear to be mutually exclusive, you may feel restless and inadequate because you have not been able to accomplish all of these things in unison. You begin to dislike yourself and to either deprive yourself or soothe yourself, both of which involve food. How can you love food when food and health are set up to be at odds and you are caught in the middle?

The ways in which we may struggle tell us a great deal about ourselves and about how dining and enjoying food could be a great solution rather than a problem. Take the “disinterested eaters.” They may ask, “What will I have for dinner tonight?” The answer turns out to be a peanut butter sandwich. These words are the words of many undereaters who simply don’t care. They are unlikely to nurture themselves in healthy ways, or may nurture themselves superficially; this could result in feeling dissatisfied or undeserving. Taking time to find some healthy take-out food, meet friends for a meal or just keep something good in the pantry brings the disinterested eater into a relationship with food as a more significant and potentially powerful part of life.

Then there are those who say, “I have nothing in the house!” These people, the “busy people” those who do not take time for food, may have fulfilling lives and simply don’t see food as a part of a nurturing existence. They don’t cook, are the best customers at the local Chinese take-out restaurant and dine out for social contact rather than spiced apple curry soup. The same advice applies to the busy eaters. Simply by giving some thought and time to the substance you are giving yourself can bump up your energy and fuel the very goals that you find most important.

food-rel2“Why did I eat too much?” is the lament of those who are overeaters. They ask: “Why can’t I stay on the vegetarian diet my doctor recommended? Why is my sister so thin while I eat the same thing she does and gain weight?” These people are caught in a vise among the mixed messages to bake macaroni with cheese, eat it with friends and maintain your weight and healthy cholesterol balance. It is an outdated message that still circulates with the frequency of the daily news. Self-hypnosis and other systems that help to change old ways of doing things can be great ways for these eaters to keep on loving food but not be so dependent upon it for emotional support. The changes are more likely to stick and create permanent change.

The questions and comments you express are clues to unraveling the many mysteries behind the messages about eating in our society, the ways we live our lives and our personal histories. These are the ingredients in the recipe of life and food. And just like any recipe, you can’t consider these ingredients without considering their relationship to each another.

Eating is not a necessary evil, a necessity of life, a chore to be dreaded, a temptation to be avoided or an “eat just to live” experience. There is too much succulent food in the world to savor, too much fun to be had shopping for dinner, especially with a loved one, too much joy and excitement in looking at a recipe for vegetable lasagna and wondering how it would taste smothered in your grandmother’s rich red tomato sauce. There are too many special occasions that include food, too many good restaurants, too many meals in your life not to truly enjoy each and every one of them. All three challenged types of eaters can transform their relationships with food into powerful, supportive ones that lower cholesterol, nurture the soul and enhance all of their other relationships with work, friends, family and spirit.

Simple ways to love food

Enjoy about 75 grams of dark chocolate a day. It improves good cholesterol, improves mood and may improve heart health and prevent tooth decay.

Eat slowly and taste your food. Even if you are tired of hearing this, do it. Live in this present moment and savor what is right in front of you. If it is not savory, change your diet. Eat the best of the healthiest foods you can and enjoy every moment of it. Save some wiggle room for eating things you love that may not be the best health choices. Unless your doctor advises against it, follow the path of the healthiest people by eating about 80% to 85% “good for you” foods and the rest from the list of foods can nurture the inner child, and the spirit.

Break old patterns and beliefs that hold you back from the relationship with dining that you desire. Still not convinced that you can move forward into a life of sheer joy and health? Consider the following questions:

What is your favorite food?

What was the most fun you ever had with food?

What is the best restaurant you have ever visited?

Who is your favorite cook? Why?

In a healthy relationship with food, you know the answers quickly and enjoy reminiscing about them. If you are still struggling, take some time to finish the quiz and look at the results. If you are not happy with the answers consider transforming this central life relationship. simple ways to love food.

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