So, I know that everyone is always talking about his or her yoga teacher and how great he or she is, but really: my yoga teacher, Ashleigh, is the best. She’s sweet and wise without being too much of a flower child; hip and funny without being a smartass. (She’s a pretty great yoga instructor, too!)
Ashleigh also happens to be a raw foods enthusiast! We’re often busy chatting about our favorite goodies at Quintessence and Pure. Every now and then, Ashleigh begins class with a food related anecdote (for no class of hers begins without an insightful, honest, and funny story). A few months ago, Ashleigh shared a story that resonated with me as a nutritionist.
The other night at dinner, Ashleigh said, she’d found herself digging into the bread at the dinner table with a little too much abandon. A few days later, she relayed the story to her own yoga teacher–a woman she considers a mentor. Her mentor responded by asking Ashleigh why she’d been so hungry for the bread. “I don’t know,” Ashleigh said. “It was just so soft and warm.”
“Oh, Ashleigh,” her mentor responded. “Was your mother soft and warm?”
As Ashleigh went on to explain her mentor’s insightfulness, I marveled at how deceptive food can be—how it can disguise itself as things it isn’t.
Here in the blogosphere, we spend a lot of time talking about what food is. It’s fuel, nourishment, and sustenance. It’s creativity, inspiration, and artistry. It’s friend and it’s foe.
Rather than fixating on what food is, though, it’s important to periodically remind ourselves of what food is not. Too often, our love/hate relationship with food is the result of our habit of endowing it with too much importance. Ask yourself: how often have you dug into that loaf of bread searching for the mother who wasn’t quite soft and warm? How often have you overindulged to compensate for the father who was never quite pleased? How many times have you looked to food to evoke a cherished memory, or to transport you back to the safety of childhood? Or let’s consider the converse: how many times have you found yourself restricting your meals or your portions out of anger? Purging in an attempt to wipe the slate clean? Obsessing over food in the hopes to invest your life with more control?
If you’re like most women, you’ve probably done one of these things–or a handful of them–on occasion. And who could blame you? Wherever we turn, we’re culturally conditioned to worship, venerate, cherish, resent, fear, or hate food. TV commercials display polished, dewy, light-flecked images of food with seductive voiceovers. Magazine adds bombard us with claims that this or that food will do this or that to make us happier, better, prettier, stronger, or healthier. TV shows devoted to weight loss keep all of us rapt with attention. So it’s no wonder we forget that food is just food. No more, no less.
Now, don’t get me wrong: food is a whole lot! But it’s not synonymous with comfort, ormemory, or escape. It’s not your friend, and it’s not your enemy. Even as we find basically healthy ways to celebrate food’s importance—when we speak, for instance, of its celebration in foreign cultures, or the passing down of cherished recipes between generations of family members—we tend to forget that food is first and foremost the stuff with which we keep our bodies going.
I cherish food just like anyone else—perhaps more than most people! But we all have to be careful to remember what food can and can’t do for us. It may please us and help us to connect; it may nourish us and provide us with creative distraction. It may provide pleasure or joy. But it shouldn’t obsess us, torment us, or control us; it alone shouldn’t give us an illusion of safety or well being. It’s just food. Whatever bothers or distracts us before we sit down to eat will still bother and distract us when we get up to wash the dishes.
It would be nice if, during those moments of eating, food could change our lives. Unfortunately, food isn’t that powerful. And if it is—if you’re looking for it to solve your problems, or to provide you with your principle source of happiness—you’re probably giving it far too much power. What do they say about drugs and booze and other addictions? You can’t look to outside substances for happiness or bliss. So too with food. Happiness, as all the old sayings go, has to come from within.
This is scary, of course: it would be pretty great if happiness came in a bowl of oatmeal, or sat at the bottom of a jar of nut butter, or was hiding in a bar of dark chocolate (and I use these foods as examples because they tend to be the foods that many women are prone to overeating). Unfortunately, we’ve got to rush outside into the world and claim happiness on our own. But this should feel empowering, too—at least as far as your love/hate relationship with eating goes. Just think: if you don’t give food the exclusive power to make you happy, you also don’t give it the exclusive power to make you miserable. Begin looking outside of food for happiness—look to your friends, or look to music, or look to art, or look to your work.
Or, better yet, look inward, which is where happiness really resides. Suddenly, you won’t be looking to food for a mood boost anymore. Instead, you’ll be eating the way we ought to eat: with nourishment in mind. If happiness is a part of the experience, great. Just so long as the primary source of happiness (or distress) in your life isn’t sitting on your plate. Or in the pantry.
Next time you find yourself tempted to overeat, under eat, or simply to approach your meal with a lousy frame of mind, ask yourself: what am I looking for? What emotion or experience am I trying to create through eating? Chances are, what you really want isn’t about to go in your mouth. So if it’s softness and warmth you seek—a softness or warmth you never had enough of—look to the positive relationships in your life, to the songs and books and TV shows that make you smile, or to the activities that make you feel whole.
No matter how great food can be, remember: it’s just food. Enjoy what’s on your plate, and walk away without looking back.
Deep thoughts on a Monday, kids. If you’re not sick of me yet, and if you want to read something a little lighter, please check out my interview with Alison on Health Blog Helper. I talk about this blog, how it came to be, and how my vision of it has changed since I’ve been blogging.
I also talk about my fear of heights.
Have a great night, all!
P.S. Happy Birthday Kath!