It's Time to Heal Our Relationships with Food (& Here's How)
Have you ever really examined the way you think about and relate to food?
Many of us grew up on the All-American Diet...boxed / frozen / fast. These ways of processing food and turning it in to "food" are what this country really runs on.
In order to examine our relationship to food aka a source of life, it's important to look at several differing factors around what's generally accessible and thought patterns we hold.
As immigrants, my family experienced food poverty so dire that they had nothing to eat, and I am certainly grateful they came through that to provide me a better life.
Each new generation can hopefully reach a little higher than the one before it.
Today, it is saddening to zoom out now and look at the big picture of how America eats. Most if not all of us fall in to addictive eating patterns around processed foods. That is the simplest way to eat and satisfy that darn recurring hunger, according to our busy lives.
What we may not realize is that this food is not really measuring up to what our body is asking for.
Most of the food we eat is non recognizable from the form it started in.
The plants most people consume daily have gone from lots of varieties of fibrous vegetables, beans, grains, and greens to simple carbs of rice, flour, and oats.
The thing is, most of the time we don't want those things of variety. It's not what we're craving...
Through studying female hormones, I learned about something called leptin resistance. It's a condition that occurs when your brain's reward system for food has been hijacked by uber salty, sugary, crispy, crunchy, and sweet processed foods. The book Hooked by Michael Moss depicts this truth: "Processed foods like cheeseburgers, potato chips and ice cream are not only addictive, but they can be even more addictive than alcohol, tobacco and drugs."
One crucial element that influences the addictive nature of a substance and whether or not we consume it compulsively is how quickly it excites the brain.
"No addictive drug can fire up the reward circuitry in our brains as rapidly as our favorite foods, Mr. Moss writes. 'The smoke from cigarettes takes 10 seconds to stir the brain, but a touch of sugar on the tongue will do so in a little more than a half second, or six hundred milliseconds, to be precise. That’s nearly 20 times faster than cigarettes.'”
So, we are hooked on these empty foods. And once this hijacking happens over and over, your brain no longer recognizes leptin (the signal of being 'full') so it thinks you are constantly hungry and pushes you to continue eating these oddly rewarding foods. Meanwhile, the body becomes overweight or obese. The deck is certainly stacked against us at that point, wouldn't you say? Most of us are completely unaware, yet this is happening within us.
I have a lot of interest around herbalism. Another thing that stands out is how much “bitter” tastes have been removed from our diets when they used to be common. It is to the point where most people can’t tolerate food that isn’t salty or sugary. Fast food giant Taco Bell takes great advantage of human psychology. They give us the illusion of choice surrounding their menu items, yet they're all made of the same core ingredients: refined flour, processed meat, and dairy. As long as it has a satisfying level of crunch, salt, and creaminess - we're in. Over and over again.
Our brains and our palates have been taken over, and not surprisingly, we see those effects reflected in our health and the staggering number of preventable diseases that people suffer and die from every day. Meanwhile, the only healthcare system most people have access to provides little to no preventative care and profits huge when they're needed to treat these illnesses and diseases (#ICouldRantOn) It's time to take the power back into our own hands.
My relationship with food growing up was thinking carbs like bread and pasta were bad, they will make me fat (I was *maybe* 10 thinking this). Growing up in a Greek/Italian household, carbs were most of what we ate on a daily basis. I sadly had a negative mindset around gaining weight from a young age. I throttled the amount of food I would eat, and often felt guilty. I never truly enjoyed my food without a side of shame.
I also realize the effects that highly edited magazine covers and toxic diet culture had on me all through growing up. To the outside eye, I was skinny, but internally I felt I was ugly and unattractive.
The older you get, the busier life gets... and who has time for balanced meals? I often wouldn't eat all day until binging out on my first meal of the day at 3pm after school. Always something processed. I never considered why I was eating, only viewing it as a way to calm my grumbling belly. This vicious cycle led me to skip about half of my senior year of high school. I was constantly tired, and unmotivated.
All through college, "healthy" eating was non-existent in my life; I had no idea what that was, save for considering weight gain possibilities. I was thoroughly addicted to sugar.
Post college, I made a career of eating out by starting an online food blog where I reviewed restaurants and local cuisine. It became a solid part of my identity. Up here in NY, our staple diet is meat and potatoes and grease. I started having an issue with dairy, and saw several doctors. I got little to no help, all I knew was to try lactase enzyme and avoid it if possible. However, with my career of reviewing and eating all these indulgent foods, it wasn’t possible nor did I want to avoid it! I was content to suffer until the issue progressed to showing up on my skin and giving me nausea.
At this point, I began to suffer from constant, extreme fatigue and low motivation even worse than before. I was an adult with bills and my life was silently falling apart. In hindsight, I had chronically elevated cortisol, also popularly known as "Adrenal Fatigue." This was no doubt thanks to my imbalanced blood sugar and the effects I now know that long term hormonal birth control has. I reached my breaking point, my body was #OverThisShit
Turning it around...
In 2019, I started exploring my health and wanting to take control back. I decided I would love to see who I was without the artificial hormones of the pill, even though my doctors swore up and down there were no lasting effects. I figured, why not?
In 2020: my life shifted. All the restaurants in town shut down, and people began to say how the food industry would never recover or be the same again. I was already starting to veer towards the health world, recognizing how sick I was from eating certain food.
I started cooking at home, and the more I did, the better I felt. I had come off the pill about 6 months prior and was starting to notice things changing, like my happiness, my mood overall, my world going from black and white to color again.
For a year and a half, I kept my lifestyle choices on the down low. I developed a private, split personality trait that I wrestled with for a while. I didn't want to lose the work I'd been doing, I loved it for so many reasons... but eventually I got to the point where I realized I had to evolve.
I now have knowledge about my body and my hormones, and what happens when they aren't being fed properly (hint: I accomplish nothing). Now, I want to share that with others.
Steps To Take Now
Here's what helped me to start this shift:
1. I started doing what's referred to as intuitive eating. A fancy name for a basic concept. I made food and gave my body what it felt like eating. Sushi? Sure. Corn on the cob? Yes. A fried chicken salad? Mhm. I found that it helped to focus less on what was "bad" and more on what I enjoyed and knew was reasonable (hint: the more it starts the way it occurs in nature, the better!) Once I found information about Cycle Syncing and eating to support your hormones through the female Menstrual Cycle, I was SHOCKED. Since coming off the pill, I was already craving the recommended foods in each phase! The intelligence inside of me was trying to guide me to the right place, I simply had to let it.
2. Find ways to enjoy your favorite foods in a cleaner way. I LOVED to get down with a basket of chicken tenders. Instead of depriving myself, I started air-frying the cleanest ones I could find at the store and chopping them up for a salad topping. I found a gluten free pasta that hardly tastes gluten free when cooked properly (Aldi's - $1 a serving!), and I didn't try to quit cold turkey.
3. Be prepared when seeking to make changes. That's why I emphasize large batch cooking, and meal planning. At one point, I wrote on a post-it note everything I intended to eat the next day. I couldn't remember otherwise, and I'd end up eating nothing! I also let go of things I don't want to eat. I give them away or toss them, without feeling bad.
4. Make your own food. This is the only way to be sure of what you're putting in to your body. Fried foods became way less enjoyable for me when I realized I had no idea how much grease was in them, or when the last time it was changed was. Yuck. As Gusteau in Ratatouille said "Anyone can cook!" you simply need to get inspired.
5. Let go of scarcity. You only have one thing in this life: your health. Without it, you won't be able to enjoy family, relationships, or any of your favorite things. Nothing is more worth chasing, thus no amount of money is too much. Let go of thinking you need to eat it just because it's there, let the extra cupcakes meet the trash can. It's ok. No one wants to be sick, and we need to make daily choices that support our wellbeing.
In summary, a teacher of mine once said that 80% of health is what we put in to our bodies, therefore we all have the opportunity to move towards a better lifestyle.
If 80% of our food choices are nourishing, then I believe it's OK to indulge 20% of the time with foods that bring us joy. Hopefully, your happy foods and your nourishing foods intertwine. Or maybe, you utilize a digestive enzyme and probiotics to make digesting your fun foods easier. Removing labels from food helps, think of it more in terms of nutrient content and what your body likes! At the end of the day...you will hold the power.
Now, I would be remiss to say we hold the power without acknowledging the addictive nature of processed foods. Hyper-palatable foods that leave our bodies in a state of deficit are everywhere. They're never quite as satisfying as we think they will be because our hunger happens on a deeper level than these empty foods can provide, and somewhere deep down, we know it.
Once you taste the true satisfaction and nourishment that comes from enjoying foods that feed your body on multiple levels, you'll be hooked! (In a good way)
Which step will you take first? I'd love to hear from you as you walk through your own food journey.
Dive in, it's yummy.
So, is the US the only country that struggles with relating to food? Not hardly. Europeans still consume fatty foods, even though their governments ban many more chemicals and food additives. At the end of the day, we can all fall victim to it. Check out this article that talks about differences between food in the UK vs. US.
For more information about the addictive nature of processed foods, check out this book: "Hooked, Food, Free Will, and How The Food Giants Exploit Our Addictions" - you can sample it with a review in the NY Times here.
Source from above: "This Is Your Brain on Junk Food" NY Times Review
Psst- If you're exploring your own birth control journey, I encourage you to sign up for the Hormonoscope book club and sharing circle around the book This Is Your Brain on Birth Control. It's a research-backed look at the unintended effects that hormonal contraceptives do have. It's the first book I read after coming off the pill, and it opened my eyes tremendously. We'll have 10 discussion calls over 3 months and provide support for those looking to transition off the pill. Sign up here.
Cheers + thanks for reading!