March is national nutrition month. For me, the word “nutrition” puts me on high alert. It shouldn’t. Nutrition means “to nourish” which sounds lovely, but food and I have a complicated relationship.
A Complicated Relationship
I’m sure many of you can relate. Food causes me stress. Food is sometimes what I turn to in order to relieve my stress. Food is what you bring to someone who is grieving and going out to dinner is what you do to celebrate a happy occasion. We can’t live without food, yet science shows that a prolonged diet of processed foods can slowly kill us.
Add the fact that I’m a woman and food becomes even more complicated. I’ll save the details of my highly dysfunctional relationship with food, but an overview would look like this: Since a young age (we are talking six years old!) I have thought about what I should or shouldn’t eat. In my teen and early adult years I survived mostly on fast food. I don’t think I ate a vegetable for five years. Once I became engaged I was determined to eat “healthy” so that I could look “decent” (that’s the word I told myself) in our wedding photos. That ushered in a new phase of “nutrition” for over the next ten plus years: dieting in the name of nutrition.
I have counted points, calories, and macros. I tried to eat only Paleo and then tried to be a vegan. The vegan period lasted about three weeks before we caved and ended up in a Whataburger drive thru. I have done the Whole30. I have intermittent fasted. I ordered shakes and I have set up accountability groups with friends to “keep me on the straight and narrow.” I have researched Keto and participated 30-day slim down meal plans. I have downloaded more apps to track food than you could imagine.
The “Right” Way to Eat
I tend to have an all-or-nothing mentality when it comes to food so when I became tired of counting and trying to eat “well,” I went to the other extreme. No tracking. No mindful eating. It was all queso, chips, pizza, and French fries. Of course, that left me feeling terrible – both physically and emotionally – so it would last a couple of weeks and then I would jump on a new eating bandwagon.
None of these food plans are necessarily bad. In fact, at the right time for the right person, they can be helpful, and for some they will find the best way to nourish themselves. But for me, it felt like I was at war with food. I was jumping from platform to platform searching for the “right” way to eat and nothing seemed to fit. I would tell myself that I failed. I would beat myself up and then I would pick a new way to eat based on what an Instagram stranger told me what worked for them. I was looking for my identity in my food choices. It was a vicious cycle that, in the end, wasn’t nourishing me at all.
Nourishing My Mind
You have heard that “you are what you eat,” and while there might be an element of truth to that, I believe more that “you are what you think.” During this National Nutrition Month instead of focusing on looking for yet another method with which to nourish my body, I am going to focus on what I’m nourishing my mind with, especially my ideas around food.
I am going to nourish myself with joyful thoughts when I eat ice cream with my children instead of mentally counting the calories. I will nourish self-care when I try new recipes that incorporate colorful vegetables. I will nourish a love of moderation when I enjoy cake with life’s celebrations or a cocktail with friends. I will nourish gratitude that I am able to cook well-balanced meals for my family. I will nourish the idea that food does not control me, but is fuel for my body so that I can do the things I love most.
But most of all I will nourish grace for myself: a healthy, forty-something woman, who is more than just what she eats.