Can we talk for minute about food attitudes?
There is a quote that is widely circulated on many pages I follow which says,
“Every bite you take is either feeding disease or fighting it.”
And it makes me a little crazy every time I see it. Since when did eating become a series of moral choices? The table is not supposed to be a place of stress, judgement, and fear. In fact, it should be the opposite.
I understand where this quote is coming from. What we eat matters. And yes, my family is mostly grain-free, and we are particular about how we eat. But it’s simply not true that everything we eat either contributes to, or fights disease. But this attitude definitely does fuel the growing cultural neurosis around food.
Can we stop looking at food and talking about food in terms of numbers? The numbers of calories, macronutrients, vitamin and mineral counts?
Can we approach food as a source of so much more than nutrition? A source of pure pleasure, a time of communion with those around us, a way to care for ourselves in a gentle way, an amazing form of enjoying a new place and people and culture… the list goes on and on.
Can we view each meal as a gift? (We. Have. Food. To eat! Every single day!)
A little background on my own experience with food, and the shifts I have made over the years…
I have been guilty in the past of approaching food with the wrong attitude, and am afraid I contributed to an orthorexic culture. (Orthorexia is the eating disorder in which people are obsessed with the health implications of the food they eat, leading to real fear of food.) Having this little talk and approaching food with a much-changed attitude is one of the ways in which I try to participate in healing this issue.
When I started cooking as an adult, I was vegan– for five years. I was really concerned about my health, and at the time, forgoing animal foods (and saturated fats) was the prevailing health trend. So I did that.
I was a very meticulous vegan, adding anything I thought I needed through supplements, and trying to get as much nutrition as I possibly could, cooking everything from scratch, etc. I didn’t eat junk food, fast food, or much sugar. It took up a lot of my mental space. Despite all of that, my health really suffered. I was becoming more and more ill, despite doing everything “right.” Lots of different things happened that made me realize that I needed to start adding animal proteins. And the more I added, the better I felt.
As I continued adding more foods, I realized that I was experiencing more and more freedom to enjoy community and feed the people around me. I was also just enjoying life more.
The conviction has stayed with me, however, that the way we eat matters.
I am no longer vegetarian, and I genuinely love eating meat. I am a strong advocate for supporting ethical, sustainable food growers– especially people who are producing meat responsibly and humanely. I feel strongly about this. Choosing to eat well and to support people who are doing things right is powerful, and can be such a source of joy when we sit down to eat.
We started eating a more paleo/ primal diet when we were in Germany, and it made a big difference for us, as well as solving some issues we had with food allergies and coordinating everyone’s dietary needs– my husband and daughter each had individual sets of food allergies. It made a huge difference for all of us, and we love eating this way.
That doesn’t mean that I think everyone needs to eat like we do, though.
Here’s the thing about food:
Food is supposed to be a really joyful, stress-relieving element in our lives.
The physiological process of eating is inherently soothing– it makes our nervous systems calm down. Eating is meant to be nourishing, on so many levels: lifting our spirits, bringing community, offering a source of beauty and a sensual experience. Happiness. Comfort. Delight.
I’m concerned about a lot of the talk about food that goes on in “health” communities. It seems like there is a lot of joy lost over food…
Lots of rules, legalism, fear and guilt.
How tragic! It’s not supposed to be that way!
If you find out that certain foods make you feel lousy, you should definitely eliminate them– the goal being the restoration of joy to your mealtimes, not some intense regiment of eating rules. I would never tell you to just cut out a whole bunch of foods out of principal.
We should eat what makes us feel great, and be able to sit down at the table and find nourishment, enjoyment and community.
Even though we’ve had a great experience with doing the grain-free thing, and have learned a lot about how different foods affect each of us, I wouldn’t tell most people to eat the way that we do– that would be silly.
Take the time and make the space to find out how different foods make you feel. (Elimination diets can be really helpful in this regard, particularly if you have any health issues. Talk to your naturopath or other trusted healthcare practitioner. Or a really simple test you can order online can help you identify foods that are potentially inflammatory for you personally at this point in time. Here’s a link to the one I have used and recommend, with a discount.)
Sit down, eat really great food, enjoy your food and the people you are at the table with. Food is a gift, and should be celebrated daily.
And, you know what? Eating food with gratitude and joy (regardless of the ingredients) is incredibly good for your health. And your spirit. And your community. It does fight disease (especially orthorexia).
I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this. Have you experienced (or witnessed) some level of fear or distress over what you eat?
For more conversation about this, you may want to check out this video post, “Let’s Talk About Food.”