Sunday, 16 February 2014

Food, Free to Enjoy

It's wonderful to find books where the author has found words for thoughts that I've also had - and better than I could have done.

Rachel Marie Stone's Eat With Joy is one of those.

This is not so much a book review as a collection of thoughts I had while and after reading Eat With Joy. Such a lot of what she has written struck a chord with me. It touched some almost-healed sore spots in my soul and brought up a load of memories: 

Trying to drown my anxieties in a box of chocolates.
Counting calories and feeling the more virtuous the less I ate.
Eating mindlessly, just because the food is there, neither enjoying it nor really needing it.
Feeling guilt and shame about my eating, my body and my weight (as Stone put it: "public salad-eating and private cake-snarfing").

From what I can gather, Rachel Marie Stone has not been actually overweight at any point, though she has plenty of personal experience of food-related anxiety. My story is a little different from hers. At my heaviest, I was more than 20 kilos (more than 50 lbs) overweight. My weight is within normal BMI range now and has stayed there for a few years already, so you might call me a successful loser... but my weight loss has not always been in the most sensible and healthy manner possible. And the way I gained those extra kilos had nothing to do with healthy, sensible or joyful eating.

In my relationship with food, I can say I'm healing, but I can't claim I'm above temptation. I still wonder, sometimes, what my weight and my food choices imply about me: is someone looking and judging what's on my tray?

The big question that I have learned to ask myself is: what am I using food for? Am I trying to use food for a need that would be better served by something else?
If I'm tired, a bar of chocolate does less good than sleeping.
If I'm anxious or sad, I will feel better if I have a good chat with someone (prayer = having a good chat with God).
If something annoys me, I'll feel better if I put that energy into a vigorous activity like going for a jog/walk or furiously cleaning the toilet.
In any case, I actually need to face my feelings, not sweep them under a rug of comfort food.

Food, however, is not an enemy. It's God's good gift, something to enjoy. And that's exactly where my comfort eating goes wrong: if I'm using food when I actually need something else, I don't really enjoy the food. If I stuff myself with a load of sweets, only the first few taste good. After that, the pleasure diminishes and eating is just an empty motion.

Stone writes beautifully about the ways food is a gift: for enjoyment, for sharing, for caring, for connecting with God and other people. My 'comfort eating' habits did not give food the credit of being a good gift from a good God, nor did they bring me into fellowship with other people. And, of course, the same problems persisted when I went into the other ditch of excessive calorie-counting and 'dieting': little gratitude, not much fellowship, persistent guilt and shame. 

Finally, after all these years, I have found for myself how genuine enjoyment of food goes well with moderation. When I give myself permission to enjoy what I'm eating and to eat what I enjoy, a reasonable portion satisfies. When I appreciate food for what it is, I can eat it with genuine gratitude, too. I can enjoy a cinnamon roll without guilt and shame, when it's a proper occasion to eat one. 
Besides, I genuinely enjoy those salads, too.

The chapter on Creative Eating reminded me of something I had lost over the last couple of years. Strangely, I was a more adventurous and creative cook when I was working on losing weight: I was constantly looking for and testing new recipes and ingredients. Maybe it had something to do with being obsessed by food when I was denying myself? Or trying to find yet another way to make a tasty meal out of cabbage and other low-calorie ingredients? Stone's description of her "healthy" mac-and-cheese made me laugh, because it sounded like something I might have tried... I don't want or need to go back to calorie-counting or food-obsession, but I want to find the joy of cooking and baking again. To discover even more God's gifts to love, enjoy and share.

Stone brings up many other important issues in her book, too: eating together with others, ethics, justice, sustainability... Those are significant for me, too, though I'm not going to write about them in this post. No need for me to write another book here in response to Stone's...

Cinnamon rolls, Stockholm style.

All in all, I'm glad I read this book. Will be going back to it . (For the recipes, too. Going to get my creativity back!)

No comments:

Post a Comment