Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Healthy Relationship with Food

In the second stage of guided communication on eharmony (yes, it can be complicated), one of the questions you can send is:

How do you feel about food?

A. I consider myself a gourmand and love to dine on elaborate meals as often as possible.

B. I just eat to live, trying to be healthy and consume little.

C. I like to eat and occasionally enjoy large meals.

D. I eat three regular meals a day without much additional thought.

I’ve never received or sent this question, but it does get me thinking. What is a healthy relationship to food? I know my past relationship with it was not healthy. How could it have been since I was obese for more than a decade? While I could really enjoy it and have many pleasant memories of past meals I’ve had, I also now realize that I’ve used it to anesthetize emotions I could not or did not want to acknowledge. I’ve eaten for reward: I’ve eaten when I was not hungry; I’ve eaten with abandon. For years food has controlled me more than I’ve controlled it, and I’m trying to change that.

I’m not sure what kind of relationship I should be working towards though. Is eating just for nutritional means the healthiest relationship one can have with food? The thought that I can reach the point that food is just food is a hopeful one, but I also feel a little sad at the idea that I should not let it bring me any joy. I love having great meals at delicious restaurants. I really like cooking tasty meals for myself or eating those cooked for me by someone who cares about me. I have had moments when I have thought of my next meal as only a source of energy, but I’m not sure I want to feel that way about all my future meals.

What is a healthy relationship with food? Do you know anyone who has one? What does it look like?

7 comments:

lauragrahambooth on October 5, 2009 at 8:55 AM said...

I guess a healthy relationship with food should be like any other healthy relationship in your life-- it should be something you enjoy AND something that makes you feel good about yourself. If it makes you feel depressed or unhappy, it's not healthy. I don't think enjoying food is unhealthy, unless it makes you feel guilty or out-of-control. You should still respect yourself in the morning! :)

I guess this goes back to your earlier post about re-programming. There is such a large psychological piece that dieting and exercise don't address. To become healthier, we have to tackle that piece, too.

Michelle Butler on October 5, 2009 at 1:23 PM said...

Thanks, Laura! This is helpful.

I do have to admit my overeating did not always make me feel depressed or unhappy - I just couldn't recognize how unhealthy or out of control it really was.

I am really trying to learn how to address the psychological/mental/spiritual part of this - and think getting this right will be the key to losing the last part and keeping it off. I added spiritual because I read the zen of eating last week, and it was extremely thought-provoking.

Elise Hayes on October 5, 2009 at 1:37 PM said...

That eharmony question is a tough one! On the question itself, I think I'd answer "C" ("I like to eat and occasionally enjoy large meals"), although I don't think it adequately conveys the love/passion I often feel for food (something that comes across more clearly in the "A" option). Still, it would be my choice because it demonstrates that even though I do love beautifully cooked, elaborate meals (both when I do the cooking and when others do it), those meals are occasional rather than "as often as possible."

And the broader question about what's a "healthy" relationship to food? Also a tough one. I don't think there's any one relationship--mine certainly seems to shift with every meal (and I do think my relationship to food is largely healthy). Sometimes I'm just hungry and need calories. Other times the food comes with other baggage (in my case, it's often a form of procrastination. "Oh, I don't feel like starting that new scene. . . I'll just wander over to the refridgerator for a quick break..."). Other times it's all about enjoying the experience of the food itself.

Maybe the "healthy" part comes from self-awareness? I *know* I tend to use food as a procrastination tool when I'm working at home. Hmm...but self-awareness alone won't cut it--back a few years ago, when I was addicted to Cheezits, I knew very well what I was doing when I opened that box. And I still opened it. So . . . maybe self-awareness mixed in with strategies for dealing with the problem? For instance, right now I'm grabbing apples when I find myself wandering into the kitchen, because the Honeycrisps and Galas are so great this month--and I don't feel guilty about eating an apple.

What do others think?

Michelle Butler on October 5, 2009 at 9:29 PM said...

Thanks, Elise. I think C would be my answer now - but it might have been my answer before. If you had elaborate meals as often as possible, they'd stop being so great.

Kessler seems to say that a healthy relationship with food is to eat for nutritional needs with a few, occasional, still smart treats such as a fruit based dessert. That might be too extreme. Other books also go on a lot about always being mindful of what you eat - aka don't just mindlessly stuff your face - be aware of what you are eating all the time. That may be your self-awareness plus coping strategies. I'll keep working on figuring what I think is a healthy relationship for me.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) on October 5, 2009 at 11:27 PM said...

Good post, Michelle. And I liked the responses too. I think trying to get to a healthy relationship with food is like so many other self-improvement areas -- finding a balance. I'd love to get to the point where most meals are just food for sustenance (that still tastes good) with some nicer meals for special occasions.

Elise Hayes on October 6, 2009 at 11:11 AM said...

Michelle, Kessler's definition of a healthy relationship to food doesn't seem quite right to me (where's the joy of eating?), but I think it's definitely part of the equation. I was probably never so aware of what I was eating as when I was pregnant. I really did think about the nutritional value of every bite. Some of that consciousness has lingered even five years later, but obviously to a much lesser degree :)

Michelle Butler on October 6, 2009 at 1:33 PM said...

At the risk of sounding too dramatic, the one difference that overeating has to other "addictions" is you can't just quit cold turkey - you still need to eat to survive. I'm getting more and more confident that eventually I'll come to a conclusion as to what would be a healthy relationship to food for me.

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