I love food. It is not unusual for me to sit in front of a delicious plate of food and smile broadly with the words “This is my life! I get to eat this” running through my head. There are few things that compare with the delight of eating a slice of homemade bread hot from the oven or juicy peaches or gooey chocolate-chip-coconut cookies.
My friends aren't surprised to hear about my love of food, for I admit this infatuation quite frequently. But this wasn't always the case. I used to think I wasn't skinny enough to say out loud that I loved food; if I ever did say it, I’d imagine the people around me thinking, “Yeah, we can tell by looking at you.”
And truthfully, I’m not sure I always loved food. I fell into the common trap of labeling all food either “good” or “bad,” and these labels made it really hard to truly enjoy food. If I was eating a “good” food, say, an apple or carrots, I would think, “I wish I was allowed to eat ice cream.” If I was eating a “bad” food, say, cookies or French fries, I would think, “You messed up again. You’re disgusting.” It’s hard to love food when eating either feels restrictive or guilt-inducing.
I started to break free of these labels after taking a nutrition class. I was expecting the professor to second all these beliefs I had long held about good and bad foods. Instead, she taught that food is a beautiful gift we have been given to nourish our bodies and to bring enjoyment into our lives. She said that there was no such thing as good food or bad food. There was just food.
Since that class, I've slowly learned to love food, and it has been one of the greatest everyday joys in my life. Below are five ways for you to fall in love with food too:
1) Remove the labels. What has been crazy to me about removing the “good” and “bad” labels from food is how many more foods I enjoy now. When salad was labeled “good” in my mind, I almost had an aversion to it because I felt like I had to eat it. Now, with the label removed, I really enjoy eating salad and sometimes choose it because I want to. Likewise, I have learned that I really don’t like most raw vegetables. They just don’t taste good to me. But whereas before I would have felt bad for not eating them or forced myself to eat them and not enjoy the experience, I just don’t eat them. No guilt because they aren't labeled “good” foods. Instead, I just eat cooked vegetables because those are delicious to me. (Seriously, go buy some heirloom tomatoes, onions, and squash at the farmer’s market—you can get cheap produce right before the market closes—and bake them in the oven. Divine!)
2) Listen to your body. Babies innately know how much to eat, and they stop when they’re full. Unfortunately, most of us become insensitive to how our bodies feel about what and how much we are eating. Ever-growing portion sizes at restaurants have increased our perception of a full meal. This, added to parenting proverbs like “finish the food on your plate,” makes it hard for us to learn to stop when we are actually full. As I've learned to listen to my stomach, I’ve found that I enjoy food so much more because I’m not stuffed or bloated when I am done eating. Also, I tend to eat fewer sweets because my stomach feels upset if I eat too much.
3) Learn about how your body works. Our bodies are amazing! Along with a plethora of other insights I gained in that nutrition class, I learned how our miraculous bodies use food to help us walk, breath, think, and live. As I've learned more about my body, I have gained motivation to provide healthy foods for it to work well. I feel a desire to eat fruits and vegetables rather than feel restricted to only fruits and vegetables.
4) Learn about where food comes from. Historically, we as a people once used most of our time to grow, raise, and harvest food. Now we spend much less of our time and our money on getting food, and I believe that has made us less thoughtful about eating. As I have learned more and more about the hard work that goes into producing my hamburger or the corn and peaches that I so adore, I have become more thoughtful about eating. I have slowed down and enjoyed the ritual of eating. I have felt a greater sense of gratitude for the food that is before me, which has made me enjoy my food much more than I used to.
5) Love yourself and then you’ll love your food. Food does not make you who you are, and your choices about food don’t need to define you. The truth is that part of learning to love food for me has been less about loving food and more about loving myself. As I have journeyed in accepting my body and valuing myself and all the complex facets of my being (not just my physical appearance), I have placed less value on what I look like. This has made my eating habits matter a great deal less. It has relinquished food from being a source of weight gain and ugliness. Now food is just one of many activities I enjoy.
One last thought before sending you on your way to loving food like a boss. I found that learning to love food was a slow process. It has taken a great deal of mental retraining to remove the deeply ingrained habit of labeling foods. It was a test of persistence in actually changing the way I think, but eventually the labels disappeared (most of the time) from my thought process, and it has been so worth it.
Cheers, Amanda Kae Fronk