Letting Go of the Food You Want for the Food You Need
Average Read Time: 4 minutes
My Weird Relationship With Food
I remember sitting at one of my favorite Italian restaurants in California. We were out with two other couples and had just given our orders.
Sipping on my glass of red wine and taking two bites of the bread, it started:
That gurgling, bottom-of-a-volcano feeling in my stomach that left me excusing myself from the table and praying not to die in the bathroom.
I imagined the headline,
“WOMAN DIES POOPING IN RESTAURANT BECAUSE SHE WAS TOO STUBBORN TO GIVE UP GLUTEN!”
Not that anyone would write that, but seriously you guys? I’ve had a really weird relationship with food. And I don’t mean because I’m Italian and had the best cookies, cannolis, and cakes growing up.
It began when I was 9 years old. My dad called me to the end of the table, in front of God and everyone. He grabbed my stomach in a playful way and said, “What’s this? We gotta get rid of this, Stace.”
I wasn’t a heavy child at all. I just had that little bit of extra something before you get tall. But I became fixated. I made my mom take me to the doctor, who shook his head and said, “You’re not overweight, Stacey.”
But I wouldn’t hear it. My dad had said so, and I needed to do something about it.
My doctor glanced at my mother and then back at me and said, “A little less potatoes and one less piece of bread a day.”
I nodded soberly, ready to take on the challenge.
And I did. I lost the weight, grew a few inches in the next year and developed a life-long, weird-ass, up and down relationship with food.
UP NEXT: THE GREAT 8: FOODS FOR OPTIMAL THYROID HEALTH
My weird relationship with food reared its head again at age 13. I was sexually abused and stopped eating to find control in my out-of-control life.
It resurfaced when I was 17 and went off to college. I was mixed up and out-of-sorts with a controlling boyfriend.
And again, it returned when I was 20. I had just gotten married and found out my husband was hiding something from me.
I wasn’t always not eating—sometimes, I was overeating. That pendulum swing between hyper-control and out-of-control became my standard operating procedure.
So, you can imagine how much fun it was for me with Hashimoto’s, and all the accompanying food sensitivities that emerged.
I didn’t want to give up gluten.
Or pretty much anything.
I wanted what I wanted:
The power of choice.
Freedom to eat what I wanted, when I wanted, and how much of it I wanted.
I wanted to live “the good life”, and dietary freedom was part of that.
But that ‘freedom’ left me feeling like a prisoner. Spending most of my time in a bathroom stall in a fancy restaurant didn’t really feel like “the good life”.
So, it was time…time to make some changes. But you know what? It wasn’t easy for me. And I know from engaging with thousands of you over the years, it’s not been easy for you either.
Why Is It So Tricky to Let Go of Certain Foods?
Let’s jump into this and see if we can smooth out the rough places on the healthy food path by peeking at some of the reasons why it’s so hard and how we can make this trip to the table easier.
They are part of our childhood
I remember spaghetti and meatballs on Monday, baked ziti on Wednesday and pizza on Friday. I remember going to the Jersey Shore in summer and eating sausage and pepper sandwiches and a hot waffle with ice cream for dessert. I remember the coffee ring my mother put out for company, and the cream puffs grandma would make with drizzled chocolate all over the top.
Letting go of food feels like we’re letting go of our childhood.
They are part of our culture
I grew up as an Italian American. My life revolved around certain foods for certain occasions. Sunday dinner at Grandma’s with 5 different courses, Christmas Eve with the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Meat pie for Easter. San Gennaro’s Feast in NYC every September. To share in the food was sharing in our history, traditions, and culture. To not have that would feel like less than who I was.
They are part of our celebration and mourning
When the whole crazy Italian family gathered, dressed in black (always) food was a central part of the occasion. Whether we were all laughing together or crying together, we were always eating together. Food was an important part of sharing the connection of an emotional and heartfelt experience of either great joy or great sadness. Food was our bond.
They are part of our social gatherings
Happy hour with the girls after work, picnic on the first day of Spring at the park, dinner with guests from out of town, or date night with the one you love. It all centered around, “I’ll meet you at the restaurant at 6…” and the fun went from there. Being social meant, “We’re doing food” and sharing a meal was part of sharing the fun.
They are part of our comfort
The infamous break-up followed by a pint of ice cream and chick flicks. Chinese food solace when the job ends. Saltines and ginger ale when we’re sick. Mashed potatoes and gravy or big ice cream shakes when you just had your wisdom teeth pulled…When we’re feeling down or needing some repair, food beckons. It’s like a high-calorie hug on the inside that we don’t want to let go.
So, those are some of the whys. Let’s look at the hows.
How Do We Make the Transition to a Relationship With Food That Would Better Serve Our Health?
Create a vision for your life
Don’t groan at me. Seriously, girlfriend. These things are powerful. Make a vision board of what matters most to you. What do you want to be able to DO with your good health? See your grandkids grow up, run on the beach, take a trip to Italy? Whatever it is you want to DO, put the images of that in front of you so that you can set your mind’s eye there.
Get focused on how you want to FEEL
So often when we have our eye on food, we’re not focusing on the reality of how it makes us feel. Food should give us energy, clarity of mind, and a feeling of optimism after we eat it. If we feel blah, bloated, brain-foggy, and depressed, that food has not served us. When I finally realized that one of my greatest commodities was ENERGY, I started looking at my lifestyle and food choices accordingly. It was depressing to be exhausted at 10 am just because I wanted pancakes. I started valuing energy more than a short stack because I knew what I was here to do in the world and I knew that I needed the energy to carry out that vision.
Eat from the ground up
Instead of thinking about what you CAN’T have, think about what you can: fish, meat, good fats, olives, avocado, veggies, some nuts, seeds, eggs (for those who can), and berries.
Find great substitutions
We are so freakin’ lucky. Twenty-three years ago when I was starting this health journey, anything without gluten tasted like an emery board. Fast forward to today, and we have amazing recipe books like Elizabeth Hasselbeck’s. She’s Italian and discovered she had Celiac when she was on the show Survivor and felt AMAZING energy eating plants and bugs (not kidding). She committed to making recipes that were like her mother’s Italian favorites, only gluten-free.
You are not lacking options when you have Katz donuts, Siete grain-free chips, and coconut flour tortillas. There’s Udi’s bread or Canyon Bakehouse, and when I lead my Italian retreats we always go to Starbene, where you can have pastries, panini and so many Italian delicacies—all gluten-free!
Even though I don’t indulge in them frequently, those substitutions make me feel like I’m not being denied and I’m participating in my culture and community.
Friends, You Can Do This!
And it’s important that you do! Like Ann Wigmore said: “The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or our slowest form of poison.”
So stop sticking your head in the sand (or your butt in the bathroom stall) and know this: You are so able to feel good again and you’re just one meal away from moving the needle in that direction.
Making great choices for your health is one of the best ways you can be in control of your life.
“The power was in you all along, my dear.”
Sending you love and powerful, high-energy, great food choices,