My love-hate relationship with food and how I turned that into a passion for baking and cooking
It seems like around this time of year that a lot of folks start making resolutions, a large portion of which are around dieting. It’s the day after Christmas and I have seen so many posts about being being afraid of the scale or doing an extra workout today to undo what they ate yesterday. Am I the only one that has a problem with this narrative? Why the guilt after indulging on a holiday? I mean, I do get it. I certainly have my own history of doing this. But that can change right?
Food and I have a complicated relationship. I love food. But I also hate it sometimes.
Let me explain. When you have Crohn’s Disease like me, food can be your worst enemy. It can cause you pain. It makes you nauseous. Food can’t help you because no matter what you eat, you can’t stay healthy. Then there is the ups-and-downs of your weight. As you go from relapse to remission, you see your body transform in front of you. For me this happened so much that I lost track of what I was looked like; what was my normal?
A large part of frustration for me was not being able to control my body and what it would do; so, I started controlling what I ate. I developed a pretty powerful eating disorder in college and really only started to deal with it after my first year adulting. For the first time in my life, I had to stop and reassess my relationship with food.
Food and eating became related to guilt and shame in my mind. But at the same time, they were also associated with joy and pleasure. Food had always been a celebratory thing growing up and I always loved it. Food was my love language. So, my relationship with food was so fraught with conflict: I loved it and hated it.
It took me a long time to stop the tallying up of calories in my mind. But there was one big issue. I still had to be pretty restrictive with my diet, not because I wanted to lose weight, but because of Crohn’s.
Every Crohn’s patient has a different disease experience and there is no universal set of foods that are bad Crohn’s foods. My Crohn’s has given me a pretty sensitive stomach when it comes to salt and fat. I just can’t tolerate a lot of it. So while I was getting better as being less restrictive, I still had to say no to things. I hated that. I always have hated not being able to do something. I am stupidly stubborn and determined.
Ok so what the hell am I getting at? In the last 4 years almost, I have not been able to work because of Crohn’s. I seen my body go from weighing a mere 104 pounds (I am 5’11 by the way. I looked like a walking asparagus) to a healthier 138 pounds, but with an Ostomy bag attached. In that time I also had 5 months of not eating. Not because I relapsed into my eating disorder, but because I was being fed through a PICC line (basically an IV that stays in your arm for extended periods of time) or drinking a nutritional shake for every meal.
I hated it. I went crazy. My whole day usually centers around food. The second I finish breakfast, I am always thinking about what I am going to eat for lunch. When I was able to eat again though, I couldn’t eat all my favorite things like apples or raw veggies (I love fruits and veggies. I pretty much ate mostly veggies before my first surgery) and I was so sad. I went through a mourning period almost because I missed them so much. But there was a silver lining.
Going through all of these trials with Crohn’s, the ostomy and my own ED issues put things in perspective for me. I am so happy not only to just eat every day now (no more shakes thank god and this is why I don’t love smoothies) but also to eat without pain. A large part of what brought me to baking, doing it almost obsessively, is that I wanted to feel the joy again. There is a psychological benefit to baking. You get to use that creative side of your brain and see others enjoy what you make. For me, that is exactly what it did. I felt happier when thinking up new recipes. I had a purpose again as a I read recipes and books about food science. And I was able to feel connected to people again as I gave out my baked goods and watched people enjoy them (or not sometimes). Baking was just something I wanted to do every day. I stopped thinking about the number of calories in each of them. My anxiety around those foods faded away because I was so happy just to be baking or cooking.
I don’t really have that hate relationship with food anymore. For sure there are still bad days when I get frustrated or maybe I overdo it, but for the most part, I just want to eat what I feel good eating. What is going to satisfy that grumble in my stomach, but also nourish me, body and soul?
Perhaps a bit new age-ish, but food is so deeply connected to our emotions and wellbeing. We make associations between our feelings and foods that imprint and reoccur. The foods that are good for us might not always bring the most joy, but then why not just reframe it? Create a joyful memory around it so that when you eat it again in the future, you’ll associate it with that joy.
All of this leads to me no longer counting calories. Sure, I will be aware of what I put in my body (not too much of one thing, no highly processed foods, no gluten, no red meat and no alcohol) and make sure that I am being mindful of how I feel, but I won’t give myself a quota or assign a number to food.
Another important lesson I learned is that a highly restrictive diet is not easy to sustain. When I say restrictive, I don’t mean it in the ED sense, but diets like Keto or specific carbohydrate diet. These diets recommend removing entire food groups. For some, these are medically prescribed diets and for them, that is great. I know for me that I can’t sustain that. I will get burnt out unless I give myself balance or an outlet for my cravings.
Like I said in my Peanut Butter Toffee Chip Cookie recipe, sometimes I say f*$^ it and eat the thing I am craving. I don’t feel guilty about it; I don’t workout an extra time the next day; I do accept that my body might feel kinda crappy afterwards, but I accept that. My body might feel happy, but my mind got to enjoy that treat. My goal is simply to find a balance.
Balance is what led me to trying to create baked goods that don’t come with a side of guilt. My mom always had an incredible sweet tooth (which I inherited) and would always bemoan it. I know that I can’t deny my sweet tooth because if I do, there is the danger I will find myself with a bag of sugar in the corner. So I set out to try to make sweet treats that are a little bit better for you.
What does this all mean for Yes, Please?
My goal for Yes, Please is to make delicious, simple treats that are made with good, pure ingredients that can also be made with better-for-you ingredients. I do have a brownie that is all butter, all sugar and all delicious, but I also have blondies that are made without butter, little to no grains and natural, fruit or low glycemic sugars. My goal is to give delicious treats for everyone, dietary restrictions or not. We all deserve a little joyful bite that nourishes and indulges.
So before you go making new years resolutions or start thinking about how you are going to negate all the food you ate over the holidays, take a step back. I stop myself and ask, did I enjoy it? If yes, then I don’t feel guilty. If no, then I know that that probably wasn’t a great idea and I won’t do that again. Find the food and activity that work for your body, that make you feel your best and build a routine around them. And give yourself a break.