July 24, 2013

The Way We Eat Says a Great Deal About who We Are.

Food Is Life.

I have always had a voracious appetite.

I grew up in a house where my mom cooked every night, and everything was big, fat and delicious.

Pretty soon I became big and fat too, though not at all delicious. I seemed to be the only one in the family affected by such food. The meatloaf and mashed potatoes, the puddings and the pies, the deviled eggs and devil dogs all danced past the lips of everyone else and disappeared into thin air. Not for me. I slowly morphed from ”pleasantly plump” into a kid nicknamed “Mac Truck” after I nearly killed a neighborhood boy while sliding into home.

Understandably, my parents were alarmed. My mother took me to the pediatrician and sat, her hands folded in her lap, as he showed her a chart. On the chart were two lines; the first, a reasonable looking black line, which slanted upward in a gentle slope, the second, an angry red line which soared way above the first, so high that it almost veered off the page. The black line was where my weight was supposed to be and the red line was where it was.

My mom promptly put me on a diet. This diet was a precursor to Slim Fast called Alba 66. I was to have an Alba 66 shake for breakfast and lunch and then a “sensible” dinner (which would still include sound dietary choices like split pea soup loaded with hot dogs and ham hocks). Unfortunately, as indicated by its name, these shakes had a mere 66 calories per serving. I lasted through breakfast of the first day and then around 9 a.m. snuck some Chef Boyardee ravioli into the garage and ate it straight from the can. I can still remember the metallic taste of that can, the sweet, soft, meat filled pasta and the smell of exhaust as I crouched in the corner by the bikes. When I was done, I tiptoed back inside and got another.

After a month or so of seeing no results with Alba 66, the matter was dropped. My parents never spoke of my weight again. I grew accustomed to thinking of myself as a big girl. At six feet tall by the seventh grade, I knew I would never look like my tiny peers no matter what my weight was. I suffered in silence, spending most of my time under the piano with a book and my dog.

I struggled with food well into my adulthood. I wasn’t interested in where it came from, all I cared about was that I become relatively thin. And I did. Between grueling work outs and tiny portions, I bullied my body into a “normal” weight.

Then I found yoga.

I discovered the idea that food is a reflection of you inner life and that the way you eat says a great deal about who you are.

The principles of ahimsa (non-harm) and karma (fate as determined by the effect of one’s actions) suddenly had me thinking about all those bloody steaks I’d gnawed on with the Atkins diet, and the sad, sad chickens in my Lean Cuisines. Even the eggs I loved were brought to me at the great expense of my animal friends.

Still, I didn’t change. I was too afraid of being fat.

It wasn’t until I began studying to become a yoga instructor that I finally faced the truth. I saw that the food I put in my body had consequences, not just calories. I couldn’t go on rhapsodizing about Buddhism while secretly believing that the size of my body trumped every other consideration.

I finally became vegan, and…I gained weight. I was so busy eating the loaves of bread I had denied myself for so long that I didn’t stop long enough to realize that simply being kind to animals isn’t enough. You have to be kind to yourself as well, and stuffing my face until I felt sick certainly didn’t qualify. What was my problem?

It dawned on me that all the eating I did (or didn’t do) was done out of fear. I was scared of being fat, feeling hungry, being judged for eating too much, too little, or the wrong things altogether. I had even adopted veganism out of fear. The fear of being inauthentic. How ironic.

I wondered, what if I began to eat because I was hungry and stopped when I felt full? What if my food choices were based primarily on my own health, and the health of other living things? What if I let my body guide me rather than my fear?

It finally clicked. If I was always worrying about the consequences of what I ate, I was never paying attention to actually eating. No wonder I felt hungry all the time.

So I started to make small changes. I put lots of colorful things on my plate and made sure to pause and just absorb the colors as I would a piece of art. Sometimes I took of picture of an especially beautiful pile of arugula or a glistening tomato I had just sliced in two. I stopped microwaving things and put them in a pot or a pan so I could watch and stir and season the food as it cooked. I bought new fruits and vegetables which I had never seen or heard of (ethnic markets are a great place to do this) and prepared them simply in whatever way seemed to make sense, often just tasting them raw.

Above all, I slowed down and appreciated what was right in front of me.

I still have a voracious appetite, but it’s much more selective these days. I eat fresh, gorgeous, mostly plant-based foods that I tend to prepare myself.

My weight? It varies. Sometimes I’m fatter and sometimes I’m thinner, but I’m not so worried about it anymore. Knowing that the way I eat is in line with my fundamental beliefs, one of which is that joy should be sought and savored, has canceled out those concerns. The way I see it is, food is life. It is the way we viscerally interact with the world, exchange energy with it and reinforce our love of it and of ourselves.

Right now, from downstairs, I hear the siren song of garlic and onions, coconut milk, tomatoes, ginger, tofu and snap peas. It’s the best time of day…time to eat!



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Asst. Ed: Meagan Edmondson & Brianna Bemel

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