How I Learned To Stop Worrying & Love My Food
I remember the first time I went to the grocery store in college, with my first apartment to stock and the purchasing power of my first debit card in my hands. It felt exhilarating to walk through those automatic glass doors into a store filled with thousands of options and get to buy whatever I, the new boss of my refrigerator, wanted.
But as I aimlessly wandered the aisles, I quickly realized I had absolutely NO idea what to buy. Going from my parent's table to college dining halls, the question of what to eat had always been an abstract one – until at age 19, I found myself standing bewildered beneath the fluorescent lights of the Chapel Hill Food Lion, filling my cart with sugary yogurt and processed crackers and Lean Cuisine. After all, these were the foods the skinny girls ate on commercials, and as women, wasn’t our primary dietary objective to choose food that makes us skinny?
After school, my supposedly healthy diet of low-fat microwave dinners and prepackaged snacks took much of the joy out of food and cooking. Preparing a meal was a chore, eating it a necessity. Half of my meals were consumed in a car or at a desk, barely registering as a conscious act. When I started dating my now-husband, I very proactively warned him that I.did.not.cook. It wasn't that I had never seen what it looked like to spread love through a meal – I was raised half Italian and half Southern Baptist after all – but my lifestyle and our food system had so greatly disconnected me from my food that I lost a sense of the purpose and power of it.
As simple as the question of "what do I eat for dinner?" might be, far too many of us don't really know how to answer it. Our parents fed us, but often didn't teach us why they fed us what they did, sending us out into a food jungle of additives and artificial flavors and abstract health claims, with little knowledge of how to truly fuel our bodies. As a result, many of us have a twisted relationship with our food. Perhaps you see it as the enemy, something to be feared and restricted in an attempt to fit into society’s beauty standard du jour. Maybe for you it’s all business, a transactional relationship focused on efficiency rather than substance. Maybe yours is volatile, or lifeless, or passionless.
But I want to propose a new kind of relationship with food. I want to propose that you fall in love with it.
My love affair with food began slowly, the kind of love that begins with a small spark and deepens over the years. Pre-packaged snacks were slowly replaced with fresh produce, to-go orders swapped for nights spent creating over a stove. As I filled my body with real, whole foods, I became healthier, more aware and more connected to everything around me. And as I discovered new flavors and varieties and foods I didn’t even know existed, I became enamored with the beauty and diversity of food available to us – and in turn, fell in love with eating and believe it or not, cooking (you're welcome, hubs).
So as you and your food sit down for a much-needed DTR, here are four reasons to fall head-over-heels with your next meal:
Food as fuel. Most of us, especially women, have an unhealthy belief that low calorie automatically means good and high calorie automatically means bad. But calories are not the enemy – in fact, they’re your friend. They’re the very reason we eat, the fuel that allows us to think, move, work and do the things we love. Yes, we live in a society where the amount of calories in our food is often off-balance, and it takes some work to make sure we’re consuming them wisely, but we have to stop fearing the calorie and instead love our food for the way it fills us with energy and life.
Food as medicine. The greatest catalyst in changing my relationship with food was recognizing that what I ate actually had a real impact on how I felt, looked and lived. Though it wasn’t always an act of consciousness, eating was an act of consequence, and recognizing that my choices mattered turned eating well into a joy rather than a burden. Real, whole foods have the power to build up our bodies, enhance our beauty and even restore and reverse disease. Food truly is medicine, and eating something that you know is bringing wholeness to your body makes eating a richly positive experience rather than a fear-based one.
Food as art. Have you ever walked through the produce section of the grocery store and really paid attention to the creativity of food? The richness of color, the variety of texture and the diversity of flavors are all part of nature and ready for us to explore. When we constantly eat the same thing or eat food that only comes out of a box, we lose the artistic nature of eating and cooking. For me, eating has become an almost spiritual experience, one that makes me feel connected to my Creator, the way my body was designed to work and the creativity displayed throughout nature.
Food as connection. Throughout history, eating has been as much a social activity as a necessity. Though the reasons why are still mysterious, humans have always connected around food, from ancient rituals to celebratory feasts to the modern dinner date. Sometimes, it’s less about what we’re eating and instead how we eat and who we’re eating with. Enjoying a decadent meal and the company of those you love fills your heart as well as your stomach, and sometimes just being in the moment is far more important than what is on your plate.
While I am a huge advocate for being conscious of what we put in our bodies, I think we need a broader definition of health – one that is rooted in love instead of fear of our food. What if we treated food as an adventure, exploring the different flavors available to us in nature? What if we defined nourishment as the things that build up both our bodies and souls? What if we actually connected with our food, asking where it comes from and how it’s made – or actually making it ourselves? And what if we connected with each other, seeing eating not just as utilitarian, but a chance to share a moment – or even love?
For me, falling in love with my food has made everything else fall into place. I am motivated eat foods that heal instead hurt, to listen to my body and give it what it needs and to know when to treat myself without guilt. This New Year, as you make resolutions, I encourage you to focus less on a number on the scale or what food group you'll restrict and instead resolve to eat real, whole, nourishing foods – and enjoy eating them. Not only will this help you achieve your health goals, but it could also be the start of a fun, artistic, spiritual, love-filled affair.
And as my Italian family would say, "that's amore".