Developing a Healthy Relationship with Food

I remember the first time that I ever went out for dinner with a boy. The relationship was very new and we were both in high school. I remember the feelings of excitement, wondering to myself if we would kiss, hold hands, live happily ever after, and all of that other puppy love stuff that typical fourteen-year-old girls wonder about.

I also remember a feeling of deep anxiety in the pit of my stomach. The anxiety was not from wondering who would pay for the meal, what outfit I should wear, or even if he would still like me at the end of the date. Rather, my anxiety was about food. I agonized over if I should get an appetizer, what meal I should order, if I should eat dessert, and even if I dare order a Coke with my meal. Again, like typical fourteen-year-old girls, I stayed in my imaginary lane and ordered what I “should.” I drank a water, didn’t touch the appetizer, and ordered a very sad spinach salad with low-fat raspberry walnut vinaigrette as my meal. Clearly my date did not agonize over his meal choice, and ordered a chocolate milkshake and a cheeseburger with fries. I envied him.

In all honesty, readers, I have always had hangups with food. I have gone through months of extreme dieting where I would lose (no joke) thirty pounds. I have also gone through months of binge eating. I have looked at myself in the mirror with disgust, and other times with confidence. Maybe I am different. Maybe not every other woman out there remembers the first meal she ever ordered on a date. Maybe not every other woman out there ordered a salad to impress some guy once. Maybe some women have the confidence to order a rack of ribs or cheeseburger (I envy you!).

But I do promise you that I am not the only woman who has been here. I promise you that there are other women out there who do order a salad, remember the meal, agonize over the ordering process, and is sad during the entire evening. I turned twenty-five a few months ago and still experience hangups with food. I drive myself crazy. I don’t even want to get onto the subject of postpartum body image issues because it’s just plain depressing.

Why do I and countless other women drive ourselves crazy? Why do we agonize over whether or order a salad or burger? Why do we wonder if our date will still like us if we dare order a side of fries? Let’s be honest: it’s no secret that society has created unrealistic body image and beauty goals for women. (There is even some studies that estimate that 46% of 9-11 year-olds are on diets, and that over 50% of teenage girls are also on diets.) Besides that, we’re told lies that if we don’t buy the highest-end makeup, beauty products, diet plans, etc., we can never achieve minimal standards of beauty. Not everyone is going to look like Kate Moss, and not everyone should have to look like her, either. Not everyone can afford the treatments and products that Kylie Jenner purchases, and not everyone should have to in order to feel beautiful.

This is not me bashing Moss or Jenner. In fact, I find them both to be extremely beautiful and successful women. The crux of this post is not to criticize dieting fads or models. What I am trying to argue, though, is that eating habits should not be the deciding factor of one’s femininity. Women are complex creatures and are worth more than what they order at a restaurant.

About a month ago I had a revelation about food. More specifically, I had a revelation about my relationship with food. Let me be the first to tell you, food and I have a love/hate relationship. If you’ve been on my blog before, you know that I love cooking and baking. Cooking is probably my favorite hobby of all time. I genuinely love the sound of butter simmering, and smell of a roasting turkey, the complications of attempting coq au vin, and all of the tastes. I like cooking shows, I like writing about cooking, I like readings about food, etc. However, I also count every calorie I consume every single day. I exercise daily to avoid feeling guilty about food, and obsess over the number on the scale. Food is always an area of issue in my life.

Well, I decided I’m over it. I’m done worrying about food. I’m done contemplating ordering the side of fries. I’m done worrying that one day of eating junk food at a barbecue will make me magically obese overnight. I’m also done with binge eating. I’m done saying “Screw it! The day is wasted!” after eating a chocolate chip cookie and deciding I should now also eat pizza and potato chips.

Rather than agonize over eating healthy or unhealthy, I want to shift the focus on my relationship with food. I love food. I don’t want to resent food. I also love working out. For those who do not know, I run every day. I even ran throughout my pregnancy. It makes me feel strong, healthy, and confident. Plus, it’s amazing for my body. I don’t want my hobby to turn into merely a calorie-burning technique, ceasing passion.

I am in no way advocating for unhealthy eating. I believe that eating well is essential to being a well-rounded individual that is both mentally and physically healthy. However, I do wonder: What does it truly mean to eat healthy? Refusing to eat any dessert ever cannot be healthy. Being overly obsessive about anything is not healthy, whether the obsession be junk food or leafy greens. I think eating healthy and having a healthy relationship with food has to have wiggle room. One should eat leafy greens every day, work out, and drink water. However, one should also allow themselves to enjoy a glass of red wine or piece of chocolate cake occasionally without guilt.

I am hoping to achieve this happy relationship. I want to stop feeling guilty about eating tacos on the weekend, and I also want to stop resenting my workouts. Being a healthy person is about being well-rounded. Health is extremely important, and health also involves being happy and avoiding unnecessary worry and guilt.

I am not a dietician, a therapist, or anything remotely involved in the health arena. However, I am a regular woman who enjoys wine, kale, cake, running, cheeseburgers, and fresh fruit. There is no reason that all of these things that I enjoy in life cannot exist in harmony. We do not have to dedicate ourselves to an extreme. We can be moderate in everything (even moderation!). I constantly hear fellow women complain about and lament their relationship with food and health. It is not fair that we cannot experience foods that are delicious and wonderful without feeling bad.

I do also want to mention that this post is not anti-men. I absolutely understand that men experience eating disorders, body image issues, dieting interest, etc. However, do I think that body image issues impact women more? Yes, I do. Turn on your television. I promise you that most of the women in every show or movie are complete bombshells. And yes, there are many male sex symbols that are unrealistic depictions of handsomeness or fitness for men, but I do not think the same pressure is applied to men as it is for women.

For instance, society applauds the “dad bod.” It’s considered appealing. It’s accepted as natural and normal, as it should be! However, a woman will be six weeks postpartum and her peers, doctors, friends, family members, and everyone else in between will somehow bring up losing the baby weight. A woman who is six weeks postpartum probably still cannot comfortably use the restroom and she is pressured to lose the inevitable weight that comes with pregnancy! We don’t applaud women who keep ten pounds on after having a baby. We do, however, applaud women who lose the baby weight as quickly as possible.

I think if society shifted the focus of healthy eating, dieting, binge eating, etc. instead to relationships with food, many people who struggle with their eating habits would be more comfortable in their own skin. I also think that many people would be much more happy. I, for one, know that I would be and this is why I am trying this new trend out in my life.

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