I like to think that I am pretty “hip” when it comes to food. Most of my friends would agree that, among the group, I seem to be the most “experimental” when it comes to weird food. Most of the time it’s because I eat food they have never heard of or would never think of eating. I have gotten used to be referred to as the one who eats “grass, leaves and twigs.” However, the tables turned on me this weekend when I was walking through Huntsville’s annual Panoply Arts Festival and saw some things I had NEVER heard of, namely, fried Oreos, fried Twinkies, fried Snickers and fried pickles. Now, of course, my plant based radars went off and eliminated what I knew I couldn’t eat but I wasn’t really concerned about the grease, the calories, who was going to see me eat what. I WANTED to try those fried pickles and that was that. I asked a question or two (habit) and went for it. I bit into it and said to myself, “@*#&#($!”
I turned to my friend and said, “Oh my God, I am having a Robert Taylor moment.” (Robert Taylor, of course, being the name of the housing project where I spent my childhood.) They tasted just like Jay’s sour and dill potato chips. I love Jay’s potato chips so much that when I was pregnant with my daughter, I called my mother and begged her to send me a box of different flavors because they didn’t sell in down south that tasted like that. In a quick flash, I saw myself jumping double dutch, with beads in my hair, going to the candy lady and strategically spending my dollars, skating down the hallway in our apartment and dancing outside of my grandmother’s row house on Saturday after I had doubled my allowance in a dice game. (Don’t judge me.) Just like that, I had already decided I was going to come back and eat some the next day. It wasn’t because I couldn’t get anything else to eat or didn’t have any place else to go. It was because of the way they made me FEEL. I haven’t lived near my family in 18 years. Sometimes the loneliness and separation can be overwhelming and any little bit of home can drive me into a clinging moment. It only made it worse as my mom was sending me pictures from a family party just the week before over my phone.
That’s how it happens. Just like that.
I ask my clients all of the time about their “crave foods.” What is it that they lean to when they are sad or angry or lonely or discouraged? Most of them eventually realize these foods have connections to times when they felt safe. They have uncovered that their moms gave it to them when they were sick or made it for them every day when they came home from school or it was what they had every Saturday with their sister with their cartoons. I will also associate Pepsi with my mother, certain crackers with my grandmother (she would let me secretly have them in her room when others were playing), peanut and jelly and french fries will always be my comfort food because they were my favorite foods as a child and if you EVER hear of me slicing some hot dogs down the middle and frying them up with a big pot of rice and butter then you know I am thinking about my daddy. I remember what I ate the night before my son died (and I have never eaten it again), I remember what I ate right after I left the courthouse from my divorce, I remember how my ex boyfriend ordered his chicken. It’s all emotional and it’s all of our feelings. If I started to get caught up in wanting to reconnect with those moments, I’d run to the food, which I have. But those moments are no more. And I have to learn to separate from those. And separate my feelings from my food.
Every occasion, we eat. I have probably gained 50 pounds in my lifetime just from baby and wedding showers, office parties and birthday cakes that I bought for myself. Add in another ten pounds for all of the “treats” I bought for myself when I thought I “deserved” it for being “good” with my exercise or my diet. We’re trained. Celebration equals food equals food coma equals guilt equals google search for detox equals starvation equals crankiness and weight gain equals frustration equals food binge equals square one. While we cannot separate ourselves from the world (and definitely not cake), we can learn to be something other than emotionally driven by food. We can learn to do something other than indulge or rather OVERindulge because we are looking for that “high” in the name of seeking something that doesn’t exist: satisfaction. You won’t get what you are looking for in that pie. You will keep eating it hoping you will get lucky. Just like a drug addict who is always in search of that first “high”, we keep eating. It will NEVER feel the same way again. If the pickles made me feel good, I could have just felt good and been done with it. I wanted more. I needed more But it wasn’t in the pickles. It’s still not. And I still feel sad. And I have had a stomach ache ever since.
Be mindful of your bites that send you on a search for bliss. You will always end up empty handed. It is inside where we must flip that switch. And we can’t dig in there with a pickle spear. Or a doughnut. Or the spoon in which we devoured our ice cream.
Are you ready to go inside?