The relationship we have with food is an intimate one. It can be one of love, joy, resentment, guilt and fear. Various life experiences contribute to the way that we view food in our everyday life. Some see it purely as fuel to get through the day, some see it as a form of comfort and others see it as a form of nourishment to give back to their body. The time of day, our stress levels, our commitments, how tired we are and our feelings can alter the way we look at food. For example, if you are running on very little sleep and are extremely stressed at work it is likely that you will gravitate to more energy dense food to get you through the day. If you have more time and aren’t as stressed you might put more time into preparing your plate.
In her 2018 TED Talk, Nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert breaks down how we develop our relationship with food. We have our “food world” which is everything that we believe about food. We also have our “food script” which is the journey of how we reached those beliefs about food. If you think about it, there are so many factors that influence the way we think about food. I think one of the most obvious ones comes from the content that we consume. News headlines are forever pumping out sweeping statements about nutrition and our diets. “Don’t eat bread”, “coffee is the worst thing you can have”, “sugar gives you cancer”… I could go on but I think you get the idea. It is our choice as consumers as to whether or not we believe what is being said in the media. Even more influential than the media can be the stories that are told about us by others.
Growing up in an Italian household, I loved my bread and pasta. I ate chicken cotoletta (schnitzel), polpette (meat balls), eggplant parmigiana, tonnes of biscotti and endless amounts of Italian cakes. Food was then and is still now the center point of celebration in my family. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that there is a full menu written up when we are entertaining. Heck we have already started planning our Christmas menu…and it is July. We look forward to preparing food and sharing it with others, it is just what we do. It is in my blood.
As I reached my late teenage years and early twenties I became more exposed to different opinions about food and the way that it impacts on the body. The foods I had always eaten were demonized and I became scared to eat them. Why was having so much bread a bad thing? Remind me again what is wrong with nonna’s patatine (fried potato)? The sad thing when I started to buy into the things people were saying was that I didn’t investigate. I just believed what I was told and allowed that belief to manifest in my “food world.”
In year five and six (when I was about 11 years old) I did grow a lot. I was there just happily eating until I was told that I was too big. I think that was the beginning of my food fracturing. Upon wider reflection, however, I have come to see that my beliefs were framed before that. I was already aware of what a “diet” was and had seen those around me restrict their food intake. At the time I didn’t understand why but as I got older I really came to understand just how embedded “restriction”, “guilt” and “fear” are in our food culture.
Now I have spoken quite a bit already about “relationship with food” but what does that actually mean? I am going to define it as the way that we view food and what we eat in our day to day lives. It encompasses our feelings about food while we are eating it and afterwards as well. It is not something that is the same for everyone and it can change throughout the course of our lives.
It is likely that at some stage during your life that you have made changes to what you eat. For example, you may have cut out dairy because you have become lactose intolerant, you may have stopped eating gluten because you’re coeliac or you might eat a high fat diet because it helps to balance your hormones. I am a very big believer that there is no one diet for everyone and that our diets will change over the course of our lives depending upon what our bodies are going through both physically and emotionally.
There is no issue with dabbling with different foods and changing up what you consume. There is an issue, I believe, when this starts to impact upon you in a negative way. We live in a society where “health” in a lot of cases has a particular look. Think for a second of that you consider a “healthy person” to look like. Are they thin? Are they toned? Do they work out? Are they happy? Through my studies of nutrition and my own personal research, I have come to see that “health” definitely doesn’t have one look. There is no one ideal that we should all be striving for. Our bodies are all unique and it is our responsibility to care for our own bodies.
I am going to put it plainly; your weight is not the sole indicator of your health. Waking up every morning and staring at the scales and praying that the number goes down is not a positive way to start the day. The number is neither a definition of your health or your worth as a person (believe me I have been there). It can be hard to shift that mentality when you have doctors and others around you telling you to lose weight. It can be hard to ignore the voice inside your head saying “you shouldn’t have eaten that.” But all I can say is that you have to try. The issue itself is complex. There is no quick fix. I know that you don’t choose what your head is telling you all the time. The choice lies in whether or not you listen to it (hard I know).
We need to learn how to separate what our head is saying to what in reality is actually happening. If we give too much attention to the voice, then what we think becomes our belief system and you will likely start distorting things in the real world to match your thoughts. For example, if your head keeps telling you that your tummy is big and you believe it, what do you think you will see when you look in the mirror?
My blog is all about honesty and transparency. I don’t want to profess that I have everything all worked out (believe me I don’t) or that I have the best relationship with food and my body. This week I have been struggling with it a lot. I haven’t spent enough time nourishing my relationship with food, something I know that I have to do often. I haven’t taken the time to compliment myself, be grateful for my accomplishments or just enjoy being on uni break. I have let the negative self-talk take the driver’s seat. I often question why this happens and wish that I and those who I love so much could just accept and love themselves unconditionally. The way that I look doesn’t change me as a person. It doesn’t define my worth, the way I am in my relationships and the love I have for those around me. It is still me.
Sure we all know that some foods are more nutritionally dense than others but all food is nourishing in some way. Sometimes it is something that is just purely for joy and pleasure and that is okay. As my sister so eloquently put it to me “we don’t expect you to be perfect.” There is no perfect diet. No perfect body. No perfect ideal that we should all be working towards.
I think the most important thing for me to do right now on this post is write five things I am thankful of my body for:
1.I am thankful for my legs so that I can walk.
2.I am thankful for my lungs so I can breathe.
3.I am thankful for my brain so I can learn.
4.I am thankful for my mouth so I can smile.
5.I am thankful for my heart so that I can love.
When you break it down like that it is pretty clear that we are more than our weight and shape. This is not to say that moving our bodies and eating well isn’t important. What it means is that we need to stop obsessing over the physical. I know that I am not loved because of the way that I look. I know that those who love me will not change their opinion of me if I looked different.
Allow yourself enjoyed food, nourish your body with plenty of fruits and vegetables, move your body, be grateful for your body and appreciate the fact that you are here today. I really hope this message rings loud and clear in my head for the rest of my life. I want my voice of negative self-talk know that she doesn’t have the final say.
If you are on a journey to change your lifestyle to one where you think you will feel better, I encourage you to seek qualified advice. To acknowledge and accept your individuality and see food as a positive part of your life that brings energy and joy to your body and soul.