Saturday, November 17, 2012

Food for thought. . . .

I have known for a long time that my life revolves around food.  I am a dietitian.  I spend hours planning menus and cooking foods for my family.  I get a lot of joy out of feeding people and cooking.  I am also overweight and I know part of the reason I am overweight is because my life revolves around food.

Living down here it is obvious that other peoples lives don't revolve around food.  They do other things to find joy and many of them could eat cereal for all meals and be fine.  They really don't care about cooking elaborate meals and trying new recipes, they have their life and they eat because they have to.  This is new to me.  I Michigan a huge chunk of the people I knew had their life revolve around food.  Not all of them are overweight, but food was a big issue up there where I lived.  Survival won out of appearances and most functions included massive amounts of food to share.

So I have been analyzing it - like my bored housewife brain does - and I think I get it (at least for me anyway).  It starts with Grandma (like so many of my stories do).

Grandma grew up very, very poor.  She almost died of starvation as a baby.  Food security was always a huge issue for her throughout most of her life.  Will there be enough to eat?  And an even more pressing question, will there be enough food for those I love to eat?  Grandma couldn't give us a lot of physical things, but she could feed us and that was the focus of her life.  Sunday dinners where we all came to her house for yummy food.  Holiday meals where she would make her awesome potato salad and the best gravy you ever had.  She loved feeding us because it was something she could do for us.  She went hungry many a night so her kids and grandkids could eat.  Grandma loved us so she fed us.

I lived with Grandma most of the first 8 years of my life.  Grandma wanted to make me happy so she always made the foods I loved.  Thankfully those foods were also fairly inexpensive - boxed mac n cheese, ramen noodles, pot pies, noodles and butter. . . . I could eat those for every meal and be happy and for the most part I did.  I never had to try a food if I didn't want to, Grandma would just make what I liked.  As a pediatric dietitian I could go on about how this was not how you should feed a child - but as a child I loved that I didn't have to eat the things I didn't like.

And boy was I a picky eater!  So many foods I didn't like.  I didn't like peas, meat, tomatoes, anything that looked like a tomato or looked like it had tomatoes in it, mashed potatoes, green beans, pickles, cucumbers. . . the list went on and on.  I did like the foods she fed me thought.  Then I moved in with my Mom and Dad. . .

With my parents I didn't have free reign with my food choices.  My mom cooked the meal and it was up to me to eat it.  There was nothing else.  My Mom and Dad tried to do the "be a member of the clean plate club", but the reality of it was that they never forced me to eat anything.  Honestly, that is how it should be.  I know that as an adult and a parent, but as an 8 year old kid who always had what I wanted this was an issue.

Somewhere around 9 or 10 things changed.  My mom started working full time out of the house.  Sometimes two to three jobs at a time.  My Dad started focusing on his businesses and at that point EVERYTHING was about earning money and not spending any of it.  It was at this period when food disappeared.  We had plenty of money, could have purchased any food we wanted, but we weren't allowed to.  It was also about this time I began to not like eating in front of others.  I am not sure why.  Maybe it was because people always made fun of my liking pasta with no sauce, burgers with just cheese on them, just a hot dog and a bun.  I began to be very self-conscious about what I ate and I was very uncomfortable eating in front of anyone except my Grandma.  Family meals stopped now, you ate what you scavenged and sometimes there was nothing to scavenge. 

I did spend summers at Grandma's though, as well as every holiday.  At Grandma's things went back to eating what I liked and there always being food, but now when the food I liked was there I made sure I stuffed myself full of it because I never knew when the next meal was going to show up.  I became one of those kids that school lunch was probably the only meal I was going to get in a day, unless I was lucky enough to have some popcorn at home to make that evening (popcorn for dinner was a staple!)  I honestly only remember getting fresh fruit at the holidays, always an orange in my stocking at Christmas.  Occasionally, when I was at Grandma's, friends would bring fresh fruits and veggies to her when they were in season.  That was always a treat.  Healthy meals were not even a thought at this point - getting food into my stomach to keep me from being hungry was.

Then my brother was born.  Awww, if there was ever a terrible situation to have a child born into that was it.  He became very self sufficient.  By 12 months he could open his own cans of cream style corn to feed himself.  My mom was always working and my Dad really didn't care at that point, so poor BJ would wonder around all day taking care of himself.  I have no idea how he survived it to tell you the truth.  That house was so not baby proofed! 

But I digress. . . . food was an issue as you can see.  I was told by my Dad many times that I didn't deserve to eat.  I was a no good piece of garbage who was never going to amount to anything.  I didn't even deserve food.  I was ignorant and lazy.  No one would ever want me.  Heck, my own real biological Father didn't want me so I was lucky to have him for a Dad. . . . That kind of crap really messes with you.  Heck, if you are so low you don't even deserve to eat. . . .that is low.

Anyway, my mom did leave him and we ended up with Bill.  I love Bill.  I miss Bill.  He died of cancer in 2008, and I really do miss him, but Bill had his own demons.  One was control.  Bill needed to be in control - of everything.  So I went from a "fend for yourself" situation where I helped to take care of BJ and the house and I cooked meals when there was something to cook, to a situation where I couldn't even go to the bathroom without permission, I was told what the meals would be and the food was put on my plate and I was told I have to eat it before I can leave the table.  Can you see how this may have caused issues?

You would think I would be happy because now there was food on the table.  There were lots of things I was happy about - we had running water - we had heat - the windows didn't fall into the room when the wind blew - the house was clean (you better keep it clean or war would break out!) - but there are foods I still didn't like (and still don't).  I was glad BJ had enough food - but we couldn't eat when we were hungry we could only eat when Bill told us we could eat.  And we could only eat what he told us we could eat.  We had to cook the way he wanted us to cook.

Add to that the fact that meal times weren't fun.  We could make no noise when we ate.  Bill always watched the news while we ate (but it was at the kitchen table so that was awesome), but you couldn't make any noise because then he couldn't hear the news and a fight would start.  Every morning he would tell us what he wanted us to make for dinner, but when he came home he would start yelling at us that what we made wasn't want he wanted.  Everyday.  On top of that what ever it was that we made wasn't right - there was always something wrong with it.  We left something out.  Cooked it too long.  Cooked it not long enough.  Something.  So meals were spent with him loading up my plate (and BJ's plate) with the amount of food he thought we should eat (and he always gave us small servings of the stuff we liked and huge servings of the stuff we didn't), then the TV would be turned on at the threshold of pain while we ate, him yelling at BJ or myself for chewing too loud or eating too fast/slow, complaining about the meal.  I so dreaded mealtimes. . .

It was at this point where I decided that when I had control over what I could eat that I would never eat anything I didn't like.  I would never cook anything I didn't like.  It became a control issue for me as well.

The vast majority of my first 20 or so years was spent either worrying about if I would have enough to eat or dreading having to sit down and eat something I thought was nasty.  I really hated eating around anyone because I was so convinced that I ate "wrong" and that everyone would make fun of me for how or what I ate.  That first year of college was terrible!  Eating a dinning hall around all those other people.  In my own mind they were all watching me and making fun of me because I knew I ate wrong - too loud or too fast - not the right foods.  That freshman year in college I lost 20 pounds in a month.  I just didn't eat.  When I would get to tired to function I would try to go to the hall and eat by myself in a corner of the dinning hall.  I tried to go when I knew there wouldn't be too many people.  It was not healthy.  You can probably figure out why I thought dietetics was such an easy field - I had spent most of my life with food being the center so that degree seemed to fit my focus already. 

So know I am an adult with enough money to buy to food I like and the skills to cook just about anything.  I want my kids to feel good about what and how they eat.  I don't want food to be the center of their life - like it has been mine.  I am trying to change - for my kids.  I want my kids to know joy beyond eating - because I swear at this point in our lives the only joy we get is when we cook together - everything else is function (cleaning, school, baths, teeth brushing. . . . function and work).  I see how excited my kids get when the get to help me cook - and I am glad they get excited about it.  I am glad that when all four of my kids leave this house they will know how to cook - but I don't want that to be the only thing they enjoy and focus on.  We need to relax some and let the function go and find joy other places.  Need to change my focus.

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