Wednesday food post: Food as a Healer (Part 1)
I’ve been thinking about food and all its healing properties. It brings people together- bonding them in a really simple, tangible way. It can provide you with the strength you need to conquer illness (let’s hear it for chicken soup!). It can help prevent illness and build your immune system, and there are herbs that can make powerful medicines, etc. It’s pretty amazing stuff. I’ve been reading articles lately about people who have used food/supplements to cure their own cancer and other diseases- and I believe it. I think the healing power of food is somewhat untapped and overlooked. I’m sure there’s so much more to discover.
I started thinking about the ways in which food has healed me, and I could think of one really concrete example. For about 4 years (in high school and just after) I struggled with an eating disorder. I won’t go into the details, but it was all-consuming at times, and I wondered if I would ever be able to free myself of it. I had friends who also suffered from similar issues and we fed on each others’ dysfunction, often unknowingly. I think there are many things that contribute to that kind of illness- poor body image, control issues, the media, abuse, the list goes on and on. However, I know that shortly after I fell in love with Jeff, I started to notice some relief from my problems. I haven’t had a resurgence of the actual active disorder in over 4 years, and mentally I feel like I’ve been free from it for ages. Those relentless thoughts don’t even visit me anymore- and haven’t for a few years. I’m incredibly grateful for the freedom from it.
I’m sure there are many factors that contribute to my present health. I think that the end of my adolescence was a big part of it, and just growing maturity in general. However, I noticed that there was a definite correlation between my growing intimacy with the food that I ate and my return to health. I can think of four specific things that were really healing to me:
Humility. I think the early days of my relationship with Jeff were really healing. He helped me to see that I had been thinking of myself in a very selfish way. I remember walking with him one day and he was angry with me. I forget exactly what he said, but it was along the lines of "Who are you to not take care of yourself? I need you to be healthy and love yourself because I love you. Loving yourself is a way to love me back." WHAM. That kind of thinking hadn’t entered my mind before- having a good relationship with your food and nourishing your body is not all about whoever is consuming it. It’s about so much more. It’s about the people that care for you, the people that you need to care for, the planet and all its needs… my eating is not all about me.
Good nutrition. I started to just "walk the walk" and do what I could to get better. I ate my food slowly, tasting it fully, working to appreciate it and to re-learn what it meant to be satiated. I started doing more research, and I returned to a diet that was ignorant of calories and more focused on nutrients and good fats (and of course, love of flavor and all the amazing gifts that food has given us). I think this actually started improving my mental health. My mind was less apt to return to unhealthy thoughts because I was giving it all that it needed to function properly. I had more energy, was less prone to emotional ups and downs and anxiety, less prone to cravings and unsatisfied nutritional needs, and was generally in a better mental state. I really believe that feeding my body more fat was one of the biggest factors in this- and also cutting out most of the empty refined foods.
Gratitude. I began to see that food was not something to be taken for granted. This is an ongoing process for me, and continues to bring me to new and better places. Food is a gift of the earth. Growing a relationship with food- tasting it at its freshest and experiencing its beauty, giving it your time and energy- it was in many ways a spiritual transformation for me. The more respect I have for what I eat, the healthier I am, and the healthier the planet is. How cool is that? It was as if I had tapped into this spiritual goldmine- finally understanding a bit about the exchange of energy and life that we so easily take for granted with our modern way of eating. It’s very sad to me that most people don’t experience this, as I see it as a birth right in many respects. I think the gratitude that I feel for my food- and now life in general- has been the most healing of all of these things. It keeps me focused on my blessings and not on my insecurities or my fears. It helps to keep me sane.
The Design of Life. A few years ago my friend was talking about breastfeeding (rights, cultural taboos, the countless benefits for mothers and babies, etc.) and she used a phrase that has stuck in my head ever since. She said that breastfeeding was part of the "design of life" and talked about its inherent value in that light. This really resonated with me. I found myself really meditating on this, and it just bled into so many other areas of thought. Basically, in the context of my struggle with food, I learned that there was nothing wrong with my body. We are all beautifully designed. The food the earth provides is beautifully designed. The way water collects into clouds and is rained down, filtering through the soil and purifying it. Amazing. Mostly, I realized that deviation from this design (and I’m not arguing that creativity and innovation is bad, just the obvious toxification and living outside of our means- ignorant of what sustains us) causes a lot of the suffering that we experience today. I saw that much of my illness came from being saturated in a destructive and detached culture that allowed me the "luxury" of that kind of dysfunction. Returning (in some ways) to the design of life helped me to realize my own true design- part of which is to really value my own health and the health of those around me.
Another thing that I’ve noticed: Since having Vera and feeding her every day, I find that I have some really interesting instincts when it comes to her eating. When she eats something that I know is really good for her, I get really proud… like, mama bear proud. When she asks for some lacto-fermented pickles or sauerkraut, or prefers the main course over her dessert… I just feel really good. On the other hand, when someone feeds her junk, I’ll feel a bit defensive. Or like when she was younger, I really didn’t want her to have cow’s milk (even raw) and I wasn’t able to explain it because based on the books she was definitely old enough for it. It just made me squirm to think of it. And then one day, that instinct gave way, and I gave her a glass and felt totally secure about it. So strange! Although, I trusted myself in this way and am truly rewarded with one of the least picky toddlers I’ve ever seen. She’s got a great appetite and eats basically everything that we do. I see no evidence of allergies, either. She’s strong and rarely sick (beyond the sniffles) and has never had any infections or need for antibiotics. I don’t know if this is diet related for sure, but I think it has something to do with it (that, and she ate a lot of dirt last summer… haha).
Anyway, I’m interested in the ways in which food and your relationship to it has healed (or is healing) you or others. Please, feel free to contribute your thoughts on this.
Also, if you’re thinking that I don’t know that today is actually Thursday… well, I know. Woops!
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I’ve had kind of a messed-up relationship with food. Like most women in our culture, I was not immune to the “food is the enemy, and if you have control of yourself, you do not eat and are skinny” messages. But I have also been a comfort eater for a long time, who has a lot of carbohydrate and refined food cravings. I turned to food when no one was there for me. I’ve also struggled with my weight because of having PCOS. That combined with the comfort eating made me hate myself before long. It got to the point where I felt guilty every time I ate, food was the enemy, and food was an evil temptress. I would also routinely tell myself I would ban certain foods and never eat them again. All of these factors just made me go on binge-eating benders and turned me into a yo-yo dieter. If I didn’t have a fear of throwing up, I probably would have become bulimic because of the binges. Instead, after one, I just felt really bad and could practically feel myself gaining 300 pounds because I had “sinned.”
I’ve been in therapy and doing reading, and I am trying to adhere to the attitude that “there is no unhealthy food, just unhealthy attitudes toward food.” Of course, you don’t want to live on junk food, but I tell myself that occasionally wanting it does not make me a bad, weak, worthless person who’s completely out of control. And ever since I stopped trying to make myself go hungry until I got so hungry I binged and ban foods and give myself so much negative self-talk, I have been eating quite a bit healthier, and binges are becoming more of a thing of the past. I just tell myself that food is not the enemy. I’m still not skinny, and I still have a very bad body image, so I’m probably years away from self-acceptance in that respect.