I have a relentless, lifelong tormentor. It invades my thoughts and inflicts shame and guilt upon me. It tempts me and compels me to participate in unsavory behavior. It is capable of significant damage to my physical self and significant destruction of my happiness. In short, it wreaks havoc on my mind and body.
Food torments me.
That is a strong statement. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that my relationship to food torments me. It is an unhealthy relationship. At various points throughout my life it has led to fad diets, obsessive food journaling, a quest for the magic pill, and a poor body image. I have fluctuated between control and lack of control. At times, I am sincerely committed to nutritious foods and a healthier lifestyle. At other times, the effort it requires just becomes too overwhelming and oppressive. I want to rebel at the mere thought of counting calories, carbs, or Weight Watchers points. My bottom lip protrudes and I stomp my feet while glaring menacingly around the produce department. I want to throw my hands up in the air, bellow an enthusiastic “screw it!” and load up the grocery cart with chocolaty goodness and deep fried delicious. Sometimes, I do just that.
When I think about my relationship with food, I can’t help but wonder how it got to be so screwed up. I had a happy, normal childhood with loving parents. I was not faced with any traumatic, life altering events. However, I grew up completely immersed in an environment of heavily processed food. Chips, candy, ice cream, fried foods, fruit snacks, sugary cereals, packaged meals, and sodas were all on the menu. As a skinny kid, I was under the impression that I was just the type of person who could eat and eat and eat, without worrying about the consequences. Then puberty hit, and that assumption proved wrong. I got curvy. I was slightly overweight. When I look back on pictures from that time, I’m astonished that I ever thought of myself as fat back then. But I did. I was embarrassed to wear my cheerleading uniform or my dance team leotard. I learned to hunch over and cross my arms to hide as much of myself as possible.
But why? Was it because we didn’t have healthy eating habits at home? Was it because some boy I liked didn’t like me in return? Was it because TV, movies, books, magazines, and society in general was promoting an image I could never attain? Was it some quirk about my personality and character? I’m guessing it was all of the above.
So here I am today, in an unhealthy relationship with my dinner plate. Unfortunately, my inconsistent food habits have resulted in an adulthood of yo-yo dieting, and I have a vast wardrobe to prove it. Fortunately, and in spite of my behavior, I am in good health. The trick now is to figure out how to stay that way. As I near the end of my 30s, I am beginning to experience more and more concern for my health. I want to see both of my children graduate high school, then college. I want to see them pursue careers and family. I want to play energetically with my grandchildren and I want to spend my retirement traveling the world with my husband. If I expect to reach these goals, it’s clear that food and I need a bit of couples counseling.
Where do I even begin? How do I change the habits, behaviors, and thoughts that have been developed over decades? It certainly can’t be easy. So, I began how I usually do when confronted with a problem. I read a book. Specifically, I read this book:
It helped that this was a monthly selection for my book club. I had a little prodding and a whole lot of extra motivation. My friends were all jumping on the bandwagon, discussing the issue, and sharing ideas. As I read, this book just made sense. I began to discuss it with my husband, and then my children. In mid-July, I decided to implement some changes.
Specifically, here are a few of the changes made since then:
- I do not diet. I do not count calories, carbs, points, or anything else.
- We buy less processed food and more real food. As a result, we’re eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Another result is that I’m cooking much more than I ever have in my entire life.
- I’ve stopped keeping soda in the house and am drinking a lot more water than before. I bought an infusion pitcher which I absolutely love!
- I’m paying attention to ingredient lists. I think twice if it includes weird chemical names I don’t recognize. I look for products with a short and recognizable list of ingredients.
- I’m substituting when I cook. I rarely sweeten anything with sugar anymore. Instead, I use honey or pure maple syrup.
- We’ve begun to research CSAs. I will never keep up with a garden, so perhaps this is a good alternative for our family.
- We’ve almost completely cut out fast food.
We’re now three months in to this new and improved lifestyle. I don’t consider it a diet and I certainly don’t feel as if I’m starving myself. In fact, I’m surprising myself by cooking and enjoying some fabulous meals. Yet, I’ve also managed to lose 16 pounds. Has it been easy? Not at all. It’s an enormous amount of work and inconvenience. But, my health, my husband’s health, and our children’s health is worth it.
So, why share this on Growing Up Fort Collins? Part of it is selfish, as I expect I’ll find additional motivation simply by going public. I don’t want to pretend to have it all figured out and I certainly don’t want to ignore the problem. I am hoping to have some honest and sincere conversations with other local parents who experience many of the same challenges we do. Another reason to discuss this here is simply to share recommendations and ideas. I strongly believe that parents in our society find it enormously difficult to maintain, model, and teach healthy eating habits to our children. We’re surrounded by convenience food, processed food, and just plain junk. As we’re embarking on changes in our family, we’re discovering many wonderful stores, classes, resources, services, and businesses in our community who are dedicated to healthy families. I plan to share this information with other local parents, and I am hopeful you will share as well.
Next week, in Part 2 of My Unhealthy Relationship, I’ll be detailing the challenges, successes, and surprises my family has experienced so far. I hope you’ll join us as we continue with our goal of eating less processed food and more real food!
What stores, classes, resources, and services in the Fort Collins community have helped you and your family to develop a healthy eating lifestyle? Please list them in the comments section below and I’ll be creating a Healthy Eating Resource Guide for local families.