I never once heard my mom talk about food in any of the following ways:
“I had a big donut for breakfast–I’ll have to run it off later!”
“These pancakes go straight to my hips.”
“I know I shouldn’t have another one but…”
She never dieted or talked about weight loss, overate or underate. Our healthy relationship with food was shaped by her healthy relationship with food.
My mom discovered Stevia before it was popular. In fact, it was still not FDA approved (a fact that made me think one day men in suits might possibly show up at our house to arrest my mom). After having three kids in four-and-a-half years, my mom’s health and our health was suffering. We were sick all the time, and she was sick and weak as well. She researched and asked questions and prayed. At one point a doctor told her in response to her questions, “There’s no correlation between nutrition and health.” Fortunately she didn’t listen.
My mom found books that described what she was feeling. She began to change how we ate, replacing McDonald’s with homemade burgers and Sprite with water. We shopped at sketchy, hole-in-the-wall healthfood stores. She made bread with Spelt flour. We had hot, nourishing meals and healthy snacks.
These things are common now, but in the South in the early 90s, we were unusual. Friends and family members scoffed. But our health improved dramatically–no more antibiotics or trips to Physician’s Care.
This wasn’t an obsession. Rather it was a decision born out of necessity, and it taught me something vital: food directly correlates to how we feel. My sister and I ate little sugar not because we wanted to stay thin, but because when we had too much, we got sick or acted badly.
Food relates to feelings. The taste and texture and combination of food can be pure delight; it is good and should be enjoyed. And the nutrients (or lack thereof) relate to how we feel and are physically. The connection was easy for me to see with my allergies and eczema, both of which I have virtually outgrown because my mom was relentless about finding out what health meant. For me, food is linked to feeling strong (or weak), well (or sick), energetic (or lethargic). It has never been about looks and always about health and delight.
My mom has kept to a fairly strict diet of little to no refined foods, lots of fruit, veggies, and protein, and whole grains, and plenty of homemade food (including bread and yogurt). She stays healthy and is aging remarkably well (in another couple of years, I’m sure I’ll look older than she does now). She wouldn’t make food into a battle, but she did require us to try new things. Because we started eating healthily so young, my sister and I don’t have to be as strict with what we eat or avoid. She taught us how to keep healthy snacks around, the importance of meat and protein, and how to make balanced meals through her example. She encouraged us not to skimp on healthy food. I learned not to ignore my hunger and not to let blood sugar get out of whack by skipping meals.
I’m thankful for how Mom taught us that eating unhealthy foods isn’t about gained weight on your hips but the energy and strength you lose. And food isn’t something to obsess over; it’s something to enjoy. You find what is healthy and tasty and eat it freely. In a culture where food=weight (and thus fear and shame) for so many women, I don’t take this for granted. And in a culture where new dietary trends are all people can talk about, I’m thankful for my mom’s good, holistic, and simple approach.
This is in no way to condemn those of you who struggle or who struggle even in front of your children. Rather, I hope that this will encourage all of us to be mindful about how we talk about food and what we ultimately think about food’s purpose.