Do you notice anything about these two pictures? Look at how many boxes and packages of food there are in the American picture as compared to the fresh vegetables and fruit in the Egyptian picture. Sort of telling about how our culture defines “real food” isn’t it?
Obviously this week, I wanted to share my thoughts on everyone’s favorite topic….food. For me, it was about 4 years ago when it hit me that I had no idea what people meant when they made a distinction between “real” and fake or processed food. What does this “eating clean” thing really mean? In fact, if you held up a bag of frozen tator tots in one hand and a red potato in your other hand and asked me, “Which one of these is real food?” I would have said both of them. (And if you’re sitting there thinking the same thing please do not judge yourself, as I think this is far more common than we think. This blog is definitely for you.)
Here’s what sort of irritates me about this culture of “health” in our country. There are a lot of people out there (healthcare professionals are among them) who assume that everyone just knows what eating ‘real food’ means, and there are a lot of people out there who assume that everyone just knows what their own body requires for exercise to stay healthy. My opinion is how in the world can we make this huge assumption when everyone does not grow up in an environment where these conversations happen or these habits are formed or encouraged? I don’t know about you, but the food pyramid made no sense to me as a kid (and frankly even now), and not knowing the difference between healthy carbs (i.e. quinoa) versus empty carbs (i.e. instant mac n cheese), I saw the base of that pyramid and thought I was doing just fine by eating lots of instant mac n cheese.
This is not a feeble attempt to place responsibility on others, but I will say that our food knowledge starts with our families when we’re children. The food I grew up eating (and fully believing was ‘real food’) was many times not the healthiest for my body. Is this because my mother was lazy and preferred to just go through the McDonald’s drive-thru? Nope, in my case (as it is with so many others) it was directly related to socio-economics, and this is a far bigger issue than just me or you. We simply couldn’t afford what is commonly considered to be ‘real food’ and unfortunately, fake food is often cheaper and more filling. So when you have a mother who is responsible for feeding two kids and her husband, I hardly think she’s going to tell one of us “Sorry, tonight you can’t eat because we didn’t have enough money to buy everyone real food.” I noticed as a young child that my mother would allow everyone else to fill their plates and she often ate very little as there was not much left. What I was really internalizing was an attitude of scarcity.
In my home, I learned that corn was a vegetable (it is technically but it’s a starchy vegetable as are potatoes), and I thought a sandwich on white bread with potato chips was a healthy meal. Imagine my horror then, when only a few years ago someone said to me, “If you can’t pick it, hunt it, or grow it….it isn’t real food.” I can’t say I stay with this guiding advice 100%, but I do try to eat food that is minimally processed.
This has been a huge journey and challenge for me over the last few years, as I tried to start noticing how my body responded to real food versus fake food. I started noticing how I would get hungry much more quickly again if I ate a bag of chips instead of an apple. I also noticed that when I ate clean and then had some big greasy yummy meal, that my insides felt pretty horrible. I describe what it feels like to eat clean as a ‘neutral’ feeling. I’m neither hungry nor full, which brings me to my next point about food. How do you know when you’re full?
Again, going back to our childhoods, how many of you were told, “You’d better clean your plate!”? This comment to me is one of the most dangerous comments to say to a child. Children are still connected to their body wisdom. They will intuitively stop eating when they’re full, assuming there is enough food, and they will intuitively ask for something to eat when they’re hungry. When we teach these messages to our kids, we’re teaching them to ignore their body wisdom and follow the external rules (oh THAT again). When you add scarcity to the situation along with the instruction of “clean your plate,” then you get what ended up happening to me. I realized several years ago that I had a very primal fear of feeling really hungry because I associated it with the possibility of starving. Even though I was never truly starving as a child, this fear manifested by my doing a lot of what I call “preventative eating.” This is all stuff that was happening subconsciously for most of my life. When I realized that I was stuffing myself and that I thought that was what it meant to feel full, it was then that I started realizing that I was having a fear reaction triggered by the very sight of food being left on my plate (what if there isn’t enough next time I’m hungry?). This is how powerful these messages are for little kids, and it followed me right into my 30’s.
We’ve all heard the ‘experts’—put your fork down between bites, drink water before you sit down to eat a meal, “check in” with your body while eating, don’t eat distracted, it takes 20 minutes to feel full after you are actually physically full, etc. Being on the receiving end of these seemingly easy pieces of advice, but struggling with actually implementing them made me feel I was deficient and just lacked self-discipline. Again, if this whole being healthy thing were just about discipline, we wouldn’t be the most heavily medicated, obese, addicted adult generation in the history of our country (this is paraphrasing a quote by Dr. Brene’ Brown, a researcher and social worker).
This brings me back to what I stated in my first blog. This journey is a spiritual journey. Until we become aware of the parts of us that are operating outside of our normal scope of awareness, these parts will continue to sabotage our efforts to lead a healthy life. We have to get in touch with not only the beautiful parts of ourselves, but also with what Carl Jung referred to as our ‘Shadow’ parts. These are the parts of us operating subconsciously and we like to keep them there because they are parts of ourselves that we deny exist due to shame, self-judgment, or fear. What I’ve learned is that once you shed light onto the darkness, it can’t control you anymore. When it came to food, I can’t say that I ever would have figured out what was going on had I not been willing to explore those deep dark places within myself. Although these things were brought into the light of my awareness, I still had to take responsibility for them and begin to change my habits from a place of self-love and compassion. It hasn’t been the easiest, but I have made significant changes to my nutrition, and it’s also really great to get reinforcement from Mo around my food choices. I still have moments when I’m not sure if something I ate was ‘real food,’ so I can ask him about how healthy this or that actually is for me. He has a very practical approach to food and does not ask me to weigh everything or count calories. I was terrified he was going to ask me to do this and I’ve been down that road before. This time, I’m traveling this path by listening to my body and noticing how I feel. So far this has been working. One more week down!! One more week closer to becoming whole again, from the inside out!
P.S. If you decide to sign up with Mo because of this blog, please mention you heard about him because of Michele’s Blog. Mo offers every customer a free session for each referral, so I’d appreciate it greatly. Thank you.