Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Food for Thought

My name is Shannon and I have an unhealthy relationship with food. I recently read a blog post online about decriminalizing food. Sounds weird, huh? Food as criminal? However, after having this term introduced to me, I realize that it applies perfectly. I criminalize food. I have historically assigned a value to every food I come in contact with. Broccoli: Good. Pizza: Bad. Asparagus: Good. Cheesecake: Bad. Whole wheat pasta: Good. Olive Garden's Tour of Italy: Very Bad. You get the idea.

I think we all do this to a certain extent. My problem, however, is that I take this one step further and assign a value to myself based on the foods I eat. When I have a lunch consisting of nothing but vegetables, I tell myself that I am good. I feel good. I feel like I have value and worth. When I am exhausted and harried and find myself ordering pizza for dinner, I tell myself I am bad. I eat the pizza, but the entire time, I am having an internal dialogue. You were doing so well. Too bad you had to f**k up. Too bad you're a failure now. And what is a failure to do but give up and eat more pizza, right? Rather than having a slice or two, enjoying it, and stopping when I am full, I will have three slices and a few breadsticks...oh yea...and an entire tub of that garlic butter. I end up bloated and uncomfortable and feeling completely defeated. That certainly doesn't set the stage for choosing healthy options at the next meal. I think this is why I am a binge eater. When I eat something I consider "bad," I feel like I need to eat a lot of it because, once I get control of myself and act "good" again, I won't be able to have it for a long, long time. Thus, I gorge myself. Wow...that sounds crazy, huh?

So how does one decriminalize food? How does one learn to see food for what it is....that which sustains us and maintains life and (should) provide us with joy? How do I stop thinking of food in terms of good and bad and start enjoying it again?

I recently discovered a love of baking. It is relaxing and somewhat therapeutic. It is something my daughter and I can enjoy together. And best of all, I seem to have a knack for it. I am a pretty damn good baker, if I do say so myself. Why then, when I create a decadent dessert, do I immediately label it as something bad? How can something lovingly created by my daughter and myself....a simple concoction of sugar and flour and milk and anything but wonderful and enjoyable? It's true that I do not need to eat an entire cheesecake, but why can't I enjoy one piece without berating myself? What is wrong with me? I may be overweight...I could certainly stand to lose a few pounds...but I have skills and abilities and talents outside of my weight. Why would I tell myself otherwise? Criminalizing food is a nuisance, at best. At worst, it is devastating.

My biggest fear in regards to my behavior has nothing to do with me. My greatest fear is for my daughter. I have a beautiful, impressionable, absolutely perfect four-year-old little girl living in my house. What am I teaching her about her worth? I have never told her that she was anything but utterly amazing. However, children are incredibly adept at picking up on non-verbal cues. I know she watches me. She looks to me for validation. I worry that I am, non-deliberately, teaching her to have an unhealthy relationship with food. I don't want her to repeat my mistakes. I don't want her to struggle with food the way that I do. My biggest fear is that she will learn to value herself based on her outward appearance rather than her intellect. She is beautiful, but more importantly, she is smart and sassy and capable. Those are the characteristics I want her to value.

So the question does one change a 38-year-old behavior pattern? How does one overhaul the internal dialogue? How does one eat a piece of cheesecake without attaching any judgement to it? It may sound a bit antithetical to reason, but I honestly believe that I would be at a healthy weight if I just relaxed about food. If I didn't stress about it so much...if I didn't feel as though I were "cheating" all the time....if I allowed myself to enjoy the "bad" would lose its power over me. Once it lost its power, I believe it would lose a lot of its allure. We all want what we can't have, right? And when we're allowed to have it, it loses a bit of its appeal. to get to this point?

I don't know the answers the these questions...but it is definitely food for thought.


Jessica said...

What a great post! I feel your pain. Luckily I'm not on that roller coaster, but I can understand exactly what you go through (see what a good writer you are).

I am fortunate to not criminalize food. I LOVE food. Absolutely love it. And I have found that the more you slow down and really enjoy what you eat, the less you end up consuming. And "everything in moderation". I don't count calories, I don't buy diet anything, but I try not to eat too much.

Another thing that has really helped me is cooking more. Kind of like you describe baking (I also love to bake! And eat all the results with pride), the more time I spend working on a meal, the better I fell about the food. That gets back to cherishing and enjoying what you are eating and not going through that guilty cycle.

Best of luck with your struggles. I hope you can achieve decriminalization ASAP. :)

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