When I was a kid, the adults in my life gave me a lot of preconceived notions about food. Don’t get me wrong. They were trying to teach me how to live a more healthy life, but I’ve still had to unlearn these lessons as I got older and gained more control over my eating habits. A lot of these lessons revolved around moderation because, let’s be honest, most kids, when left unchecked, will just eat sugar for every meal, and I was no exception.
Their lessons also didn’t work because pastries and ice cream for dinner became a staple of my diet in high school and college. Sorry parents, I know you were just doing your best!
I also recognize that everyone has their own feelings about food. While they were teaching me moderation and how to properly view food, they were also passing down their actual feelings about eating. It took me a long time to realize that their habits aren’t “universal healthy adult” habits. They’re just the ones that work for them. The more I realize this, the more habits I start creating for myself. As someone with a pattern of disordered eating, control over my own diet is paramount to forging a healthy relationship with food.
That’s why I’m starting to debunk some of the ideas around food that have been stuck in my brain since I was a kid.
Don’t Eat the Bread on the Table/Save Your Appetite for Your Meal
I will tell you right now, “saving your appetite for your meal” is entirely overrated.
Especially as someone who suffers from acid reflux, starving myself in preparation for a special meal is a dangerous game. Any time I wait more than a few hours to eat, I end up so sick that I can’t enjoy my meal, and then, when I eat it, I end up eating so fast that I don’t savor it anyway! There’s nothing wrong with having something delicious to take the edge off, even if a big meal is on the horizon. I also get car sick easily, so if we’re driving to dinner and I’m hungry, I try to play it safe by having a snack before we even leave the house. For a while, I felt guilty about this practice because I wasn’t saving my appetite for my meal, but I’ve learned that it’s better to put some food in your stomach than to be uncomfortable!
Along that same vein, there’s nothing wrong with indulging in the bread that they put on the table in a restaurant. Especially if you love bread and never get the opportunity to have it, there’s no point in torturing yourself by just staring at it and salivating. Enjoy a piece of bread, for crying out loud! It’s not going to ruin your entire meal/life!
If You’re Hungry for Dessert, You’re Hungry for Dinner
Parents like to use this tactic to see if their kids need more food and to help them make healthy decisions. I totally understand how this is necessary for children, but as an adult, it has left me somewhat confused.
A few years ago, I was at a barbecue with my friend Rachel. After she ate a hotdog and we started to head home, she told me that she was still hungry. When I asked her if she wanted to go back for another hotdog, she explained that her hotdog stomach was full, but she had room for something else. How many stomachs did she have!? I was more impressed than anything else, to be honest.
For the longest time, this remained a mystery to me. After all, I was taught as a kid that, if there was more room in my stomach, it should be taken up by my meal. But recently, this has been making more and more sense to me. I’ve started feeling that even though I’ve “had my fill” of certain foods, I am still technically hungry. I just don’t want to keep eating that food. I’m sure that people who have experienced this their entire lives find this obvious, but it was a revelation to me.
Becoming “hangry” is another phenomenon that is new to me. I never used to get cranky for lack of food. Now, when I haven’t eaten in a while, I become super irritable. And because this is new to me, I never understand that hunger is the reason for my irritability until I actually eat. I can literally go from hating absolutely everything to feeling completely zen with one french fry. It’s almost like a superpower.
Carbs Are Evil
As someone with mixed (and somewhat unhealthy) feelings about food, I find myself looking to different people to understand what is healthy and good for my body. My dad has always been someone in my life that I can turn to when I need advice. He has helped me to understand food labels, make good choices, and recognize what healthy habits look like.
Recently, as I’ve been learning how to give my body the proper fuel it needs, I’ve realized that I can’t assume that what’s good for my dad and his body is also good for my own. For example, my dad avoids carbohydrates pretty religiously. Growing up, we never had carbs with dinner in my house, and we didn’t have too many laying around. I had one friend who was staying over ask me where we kept our bread so that she could make a sandwich. Her eyes bulged out of her head and she made me repeat myself a few times when I explained that we don’t keep bread in our house.
Since I look to my dad for guidance on all things food, I tried to cut back on my carbohydrate consumption, and I was literally constantly hungry. I learned pretty quickly that I just need more carbs to sustain my body than he does. I’ve started making overnight oats for myself in order to have a healthy breakfast, and I found it super discouraging when he refused them because they were too carb-heavy. While I didn’t disagree that they were chock-full of carbohydrates, I also recognize that they’re the most filling and satisfying breakfast food that I’ve ever had. Listening to my own body after years of suppressing my hunger urges can be tough, but at the end of the day, I’m the only one who knows what’s best for me. I can’t assume that my body needs exactly what anyone else’s does.
Eating if You Aren’t Hungry is Bad
I’ve started talking to a dietitian recently to try and get my feelings about food on track. She’s all about intuitive eating and trusting your body to tell you what it needs and when, which is exactly what I need in my life. During our last session, she said something that completely blew my mind.
“I just want to make it clear…you can eat when you’re not hungry. Hunger is about satiating us not just physically, but emotionally.”
She reminded me that food should not be the only coping mechanism that we have for dealing with stressors in our lives, but eating something that we really want, even if we aren’t hungry, is okay! This caused my brain to short-circuit for a moment.
As I am someone that has often turned to food for comfort and out of boredom, I have always been taught by the adults around me that I shouldn’t eat when I’m not hungry. And sometimes, when you’re told that you shouldn’t do something, you find that’s all you want to do! For me, it has come down to deciding on my “worth it” foods. If I’m only binging on Tastycakes because they’re available and not because I really want them, they won’t be satisfying. But if you put a red velvet cupcake in front of me, I’ll regret not taking a bite. This newfound freedom to eat even when I’m not hungry has been liberating not only because it’s nice to not feel guilty about food, but also because it is much less tempting to eat all of the time now that I’ve given myself permission to do so.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t plan or desire to eat 24 hours a day, but it’s nice to hear that eating a cookie fresh out the oven even when I’m not hungry for it is actually good for me! Is it just me, or does the world look so much brighter and gooier?
As my body gets older, my eating habits need to change, and in a lot of ways, I need to change how I view food. I’ve had to unlearn most of the “rules” around eating that I learned as a kid and make them right for me, which can be difficult when you’re unlearning 26 years worth of programming! Just don’t look at me funny when I say that I need to fill up my dessert stomach!
What eating habits were you taught as a kid that you’ve had to unlearn?
Photography by my talented fiancé. You can find him on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/hope_grows_here/
This post was also featured on FASHION POTLUCK. You can find this post on their site here.