(TW Disordered Eating)
If you’re a regular here, you know all about my issues with disordered eating. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have some unhealthy thoughts around food, nor can I remember a time when I didn’t obsess about everything that I ate (and subsequently, my weight). With the introduction of Kelsey, my new dietitian, into my life, I’ve been trying to unlearn all of the unhealthy feelings I have about food. As I’m sure you can imagine, it has not been easy.
While I already had some internalized, damaging feelings about food and my body as a young person, there was no denying that I was surrounded by influences that perpetuated these feelings. In middle school, my friends and I started eating Atkins bars for lunch and looking down at each other at restaurants for not ordering salads. In high school, I found ways to avoid eating at all costs. In college, many of my friends would comment about punishing themselves with exercise for every little thing they ate. I felt as though I was constantly surrounded by people who saw food as the enemy. After years of this, I’ve started to think of salads as a necessary evil and desserts as a sweet, amazing treat meant to be avoided at all costs (albeit, stared at coyly from across the table).
It wasn’t until I studied abroad in France that I started to befriend people who really celebrated food. Instead of dining with people who whined about how much they would have to run to burn off their salads, I was dining with people who looked at me like I was crazy when I said I didn’t think I wanted dessert. We were in France, after all! It was time to live it up and try every crêpe, baguette, and pastry I could get my hands on. There was no time for food regret or counting calories, only experiencing and savoring. This attitude wasn’t only refreshing, but also surprising. It was a marked difference from any attitude towards food that I had heard in my life.
During my time abroad, I visited some of my friends in Nice. After seeing all of the sights, we decided to have a picnic on the beach. We walked through the fresh food market, buying way too much food to take down to the shore with us. Every time we stopped at a new food stand, all we could do was marvel at how beautiful it looked and how good the food tasted. One of my friends picked up a strawberry and just couldn’t believe how perfect it was. First, she marveled at its beauty, then she savored every bite!
While I remember that day for the camaraderie of my close friends and the fun I had speaking and bartering with the vendors in French, I mostly remember that day for the celebratory attitude my friends and I had around the food that we were eating. I had never had a more enjoyable and guilt-free meal. That was the day I realized I wanted to be around people who celebrate food. I wanted to surround myself with people who pick up a strawberry and marvel at how red and beautiful it is and relish every bite.
Since then, I have made it my goal to find and befriend more people who celebrate food. Even on days where I feel afraid of food or strive to fight my hunger cues, I can rely on my friends to remind me that food isn’t just fuel. Food isn’t only meant to be something to keep our bodies moving physically, but also to give us a wonderful emotional experience. This is one of the most ingrained lessons that I am trying to unlearn with my dietitian. Cookies don’t provide any nutritional value. You can’t fuel your body with dessert! In times when I can’t get these thoughts out of my head, my dietitian reminds me that food needs to satiate us not only physically, but also emotionally. Eating should be an enjoyable experience, so it only makes sense to surround myself with people who actually enjoy it.
Now, I have friends and coworkers who I know I can turn to when I want to really celebrate food. I know that going out with them will mean marveling about how great everything tastes, celebrating each bite, and declaring it better than the last. Who doesn’t want to experience that? Plus, when I’m surrounded by others who are celebrating food, I will be more likely to celebrate food myself. Celebrating my food gives me a necessary break in the guilty feelings about food that are ever-present for me. When I’m thinking about how amazing the food I’m eating is, there’s really no place in my head for self-hatred. It’s hard to regret splurging on dessert when every single bite makes me go “mmmm.”
Are you surrounded by people who are just trying to eat food to get by, unsure of how to break the pattern? I highly recommend going to a cooking class! Dan and I went to one recently, and the love the chef had for food was truly inspiring. Hearing her talk about fontina cheese was like hearing her talk about her child. We made pizzas with chef Helga, and with each new ingredient added or each new pizza out of the oven, she commented on how amazing everything looked. She encouraged us to enjoy ourselves and our food. There would be no talk of exercising off our calories — only celebrating the delicious food in front of us!
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that surrounding myself with people who celebrate food will totally fix my disordered eating, nor do I think that every meal can be a grand celebration. But since we need to eat in order to live, why not enjoy it?
Photography by my talented fiancé. You can find him on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/hope_grows_here/