by Claire LangAs is the case with many women, my journey with food started somewhere in the womb. That is to say, I can’t pinpoint exactly when food became my oldest frenemy. I longed for it and regretted much of our time together. I come from the “Clean your plate” club, was a member of the “You can’t have a cookie till you eat all your vegetables” association, and sat on the board of “You’d be so pretty if you weren’t fat” INC.
Now, I can’t blame this on food entirely. After all, my thyroid is what decided to stop working properly. Why is food even partially to blame in this turn of events? That is the multi-billion dollar question. The answers range anywhere from “You just have bad genes” (yes, yes I do) to “It’s a conspiracy, man!”
Whatever the causes, changes had to be made. Starting with the most basic, I had to stop with the Clean Your Plate conditioning and fight against the You Have To Eat That Before You Can Have This mentality.
Both mindsets have been instilled in many of us since we were very young. Looking at the science, we realize behaviors that are forced or unchecked before the age of five take a long time to correct. Unfortunately, when it comes to our relationship with food, enforced behaviors extend far beyond the age of five. We are, in essence, victims well into our teens. Once we enter adulthood, we continue to be victims but we become the abusers.
It’s important to note that I do not wish to blame our parents for our relationships with food. Much of what has come to light was not hard science when we were children; at most, it was alternative theory.
The first step in changing one’s mindset about food is perhaps the hardest. Cleaning a plate, for me, begins with eating what I like the least first so that the taste of what I like can linger on my palate. I would wolf down green beans so that I could savor the potatoes. Eating vegetables first is a great idea, but only if done to fill up on them so as not to eat as much of the less healthy options. However, when one belongs to the Clean Your Plate Club, that’s not what’s done. One gets the unpleasant out of the way as quickly as possible before moving on to the rest.How did I overcome this? Well, I haven’t, not completely. Instead of looking at my plate and trying to leave something behind, I dish out smaller portions. I don’t cook enough food to fill my family, I cook enough food to feed them. I force us to eat just enough, instead of forcing us to eat.
When I place a plate in front of her, what I say is “You do not have to eat it all.” This is a hard thing to do. There are times I break my own rules and include the ingrained “Please eat your green beans.” I do this because it’s so deep-seated. I do not need to tell my child to eat her green beans, she loves green beans. Yet, those old food ghosts like to rear their ugly heads at the worst times.
Restaurant eating is much more challenging when trying to break that Clean Your Plate conditioning. I know of people who order a to-go box right away and place part of their meal into it before they begin eating. This is a great idea and one that I always forget. I simply use dining out as an opportunity to practice self-control and stop eating before the plate is clean. I don’t always succeed, but many times I do.
The Eat That Before You Eat This mentality often goes hand in hand with Clean Your Plate and is a hard one to break because it masks itself under the idea of eating “healthy.” After all, we should eat all of our vegetables before indulging in the cookies. But what this does is make one food better than another based ONLY on an emotional connection. Instead of making the vegetables the thing we want to eat because they’re good for us and they make us feel good, we eat them because we have to. The have to turns the vegetables into a chore we must finish in order to get the cookie reward. It creates an emotional dislike for a food because THAT food stands in the way of the food we think we really want.
I changed this way of thinking first in how I presented food to my daughter. At salad bars I allowed her to go get her scoop of ice cream mid-meal. She would finish that mini-cone of ice cream then go right back to eating her beets and tomatoes. If it worked for her, why wouldn’t it work for me? It does. By allowing myself a few bites of what I call “the good stuff” in the middle of the meal, I eat the actual good stuff (i.e. the healthy stuff) a bit more easily.
Changing the Clean Your Plate and Eat That Before You Eat This mindsets is an ongoing battle within myself. I’ve managed, I hope, to stop it in my family’s next generation of women, but I continue to fight the good fight.
However, the renewing of my relationship (I refuse to call it a battle) with food has another step, the most important step. I am now mid-process of viewing food in terms of nutrients. It is no longer just that which is to fill me when I feel hungry. It is no longer just that which is to satiate a need. It is the thing that gives me a better quality of life, a better sense of well-being. I’ve found this is the easiest of steps to embrace, yet the most difficult to execute. Modern food is not what the body needs. Modern food is modified, altered, contaminated. This is a roadblock that no amount of psychobabble can undo — a roadblock that is being chipped away slowly by people who grew up more naturally than I or, like myself, have decided to feel better. Although more and more mainstream consumers are becoming aware of organics, the idea of fighting the food industry is still quite an underground movement.
While I shall continue to struggle with my personal food demons, I am learning there are larger dragons to slay in the effort to become healthier through nutrition. This story is only beginning. I will share my struggles and thoughts on this subject in follow-up articles.