Healing through food – personally, generationally

I come from a long line of women who had an adversarial relationship with food. My Mom learned how to cook from her Mom, who cooked for a man with an ulcer. My father’s mother never learned how to cook. Her Mom married a wealthy man, who thought it was beneath him to have a wife who cooked. My father’s Dad thought the same thing. They didn’t quite make enough money for a maid who cooked, but they did make enough money to eat out. For every meal.

My Mom only really cooked when company came over. She had a few recipes that she would trot out, like prize winning horses. There was chicken rosemary, and steak Diane, and Italian braised beef. It was tasty, but belied the reality of our everyday existence. Cold cereal for breakfast. A plain sandwich on white bread for lunch. Bland, brown meals at supper.

Nothing was ever fresh. Nothing was ever from scratch. Cooking was something you did, like a duty. Perhaps she thought the same about cooking that she did about sex. She told me that sex was a wife’s duty. It was once a week, like clockwork. No spontaneity, no fun, and no love. Not really. Food was the same way.

If we are what we eat, then what are we if what we eat isn’t that much? I’m not talking about quantity, but quality. Eating wasn’t ever fun in my house when I was growing up. We ate at the dinner table, but it was a quiet affair. Well, quiet except for my father’s loud slurping. He ate greedily and ravenously. It wasn’t out of a love for food. It was about eating quickly and piggishly. If I didn’t eat fast enough he would start to eye my food and ask if I was done yet. He wanted what was on my plate. He’d had a full serving and wanted more. He was willing to try to take away my nourishment to feed his insatiable appetite.

He was like that with a lot of things. He smoked two packs of cigarettes a day. He drank coffee nonstop. He ate whatever and whenever, without regard to actual hunger. He ate out of an addiction. What he was hungry for wasn’t to be found on a plate, but he didn’t know that. I didn’t know it either. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t have the words for it then.

When our grandmother (his mother) would send Christmas money, he would expect my Mom to give him her share. We each got separate checks from her. He never asked me for my check. I guess he thought asking me for my food was enough.

Food is life. We have to eat to live. But not only in what we eat but how we eat are we shaped. Every cell of our body is composed of the minerals and vitamins that are in the food we eat. So if you eat better food, you are improving your body cell by cell.

I realized this while I was baking banana bread today. I make it every week now. It is part of our breakfast nourishment at our house. Instead of eating a banana each, we eat a slice of banana bread. This works out better for many reasons. A whole banana is just too much sugar. I always felt a little spacey after eating one, but there isn’t a good way of saving half a banana. Having a slice of banana bread does the trick nicely. Plus, we are saving money. One loaf of banana bread uses four bananas, and lasts us a week. If we both eat a banana a day for a week, that is fourteen bananas. Flour is cheap. Bananas aren’t.

Somehow in the middle of my mixing and blending today, I decided to dedicate this loaf to my grandmothers. I decided to heal them, through me. I decided that the legacy of being afraid of cooking, of thinking it is something only poor people do, is gone.

Learned helplessness – victimhood and the Siren song.

Learned helplessness is a terrible thing.

Thinking you are a victim makes you so.

Blaming others for your sad state of affairs keeps you trapped there.

Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are right.

I knew a lady who once complained that there was a roach in her house. She was concerned about how filthy and dirty they are. She said that she was so upset about it that she had to have a smoke. I told her that the cigarette would cause her far more damage to her health than the roach. She got very angry with me and then told me that my saying that made her have to smoke even more.

It has to be terrible to live your life like a puppet.

I did not make her smoke. I did not force her to do anything. That was her choice.

Look at the Nazis. They said they had to commit all those atrocities because otherwise they would be killed. But it is better to die clean than live dirty. They made their choice.

To smoke is to commit an atrocity against yourself.

I knew a guy who weighed over 500 pounds. He said that he couldn’t help it. Everybody in his family was that large. If everybody in his family was as inactive as him, it makes sense. He even had a free membership to the Y and spent his whole time either drinking coffee or floating around in the pool. There were many opportunities for him to get healthy and he chose to not take them. He ate terribly, he refused to exercise. He acted as if he had no choice in the matter. That too was his choice.

It is all about choices. Sometimes people make bad choices. Then there are repercussions. It isn’t fate. It isn’t being unlucky. It is a direct correlation to an action or inaction.

You reap what you sow. If you don’t sow anything, you don’t reap anything. Simple.

I knew a guy who said that he wanted to quit smoking. And then he took another puff of his cigarette. If you want to quit smoking, quit smoking. Really. You are the one buying the cigarettes, lighting them, and bringing them up to your mouth and inhaling. These are all conscious acts. It is all something you are doing. It isn’t something that happens to you. It is your choice.

Whatever you want to be, you have to do. If you want to be healthy, you have to do the things that healthy people do. You have to eat healthy food. You have to eat a reasonable amount of it. You have to exercise daily. You have to get enough sleep.

You can’t wish it into being. You have to do it.

To get jealous of someone who has something you don’t is to paint yourself as a victim. It is in fact why you don’t have what they do – because you have given your power away. You have said that you can’t do it. You have chosen that.

You will either find a way or find an excuse.

Look at what you can do and do it.

I used to be obese. I used to smoke pot daily. I used to smoke clove cigarettes. I wallowed in my helplessness.

I remember one time I decided to at least slow down on my pot smoking. I put the supplies in a plastic bag and sealed it with rubber bands. I put it up in my closet. I had to get a chair to pull it down. It took me quite a bit of time to get to it.

Then I’d climb up there and pull it all apart, and smoke anyway. All along I felt helpless, in the thrall of my desire for that drug. I’d feel guilty and upset and angry at myself. But I’d seal it up again, and it would slow me down a little. That step alone was a step towards getting free.

No change happens immediately. It is all made of little steps.

I even moved two hours away from the person I bought pot from so that it would be harder for me to smoke. I had to drive a long way to get pot. I did that on purpose, to make it harder for myself. That too was a step.

Lao Tzu says that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And then there is another step. And another. You just have to keep walking towards your goal, one step at a time.

I remember one time I was making a rosary. I worked on it a little. Then I put it aside. A lot of time went by and I didn’t work on it. But then when I came back to it I realized that all the work I had done was still there. It hadn’t lost anything. So I added to it.

Positive actions towards a goal are the same.

You don’t abuse drugs, or food, or sex, or whatever. You abuse yourself. You are insulting your soul. You are abusing the gift that God has given you.

Look at Ulysses. He wanted to hear the sound of the Sirens. He knew that hearing it might drive him insane. He told his men to put wax in their ears so they would be safe, and to tie him to the mast so he couldn’t jump into the sea and drown.

Our addictions are like the Siren song. They draw us away from our rational selves. When we are sober, when we are free of the pull, we have the chance to make a decision to make it harder on ourselves to succumb.

My putting the supply of pot further away from myself was my lashing myself to the mast. It slowed me down and made me think. Ideally, yes, I would have thrown it away. At times I did that too, and I just bought more. At that time, I thought I could control it. Just like Ulysses, I wanted to hear that Siren song, just not succumb to it. It is a dangerous game.

Jesus says in Matthew 5:29-30 (ESV)
29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

Sometimes we have to make hard choices in order to get healthy.

It is hard to be addicted, but it is still a conscious choice. The addiction is like nothing else. It consumes you. Ideally, it is better to not start. I don’t think anybody will ever tell you that smoking cigarettes, doing drugs, and eating junk food is good for you. We all delude ourselves when we think we can do these things and not get hurt. But if we do succumb, and fall into that pit, there is a way out.

It is step, by step, by step.

But first you have to stop being a victim.

I knew a guy who abused prescription drugs. They weren’t even his drugs. It wasn’t an accident. He didn’t develop an addiction from taking a prescription drug that was for him. He voluntarily and soberly took the first pill or four. He wasn’t an addict when he started.

He knew the risks. He thought it couldn’t happen to him. He thought he was special.

He ended up going to rehab twice. His wife left him. His brother started abusing drugs along with him. His father got sick from all the stress. And then he actually had the nerve to say “Why does all this bad stuff keep happening to us?” and “Why does God hate us so much?”

This passive attitude was the reason he was in that mess. He was the cause of all that mess, not God.

We are the cause of our own problems – not others. We are the solution too, not others.

One reason why we eat too much.

I believe that our bad relationship with food is taught to us as children. We are taught to deal with our emotions by eating. Food is offered instead of comfort. When bad feelings happen, food fills the gaps.

How often do you see a parent putting a pacifier in her child’s mouth when he cries? This is so normal that we don’t even think about it. The child has legitimate need that needs to be addressed, and instead of getting help for his problem, something is put in his mouth.

Every time he is hungry, or tired, or wet, or sad, or upset, or too cold or too hot – something is put in his mouth. After months of this, he learns that this is how you deal with problems. Something isn’t right? Put something in your mouth.

This child will internalize this. He’ll either learn to eat or smoke or drink whenever he feels any twinge or any anxiety. When things aren’t going right, don’t find the reason for the problem. Self soothe by putting something in your mouth.

This is so simple that it is overlooked. This is so obvious that nobody sees it.

We need to stop using a pacifier and actually pacify children who are upset. We need to find out what the problem is and address it. They can’t fix their own problems. They can’t change anything about their environment. They let parents know that something is wrong by crying. Crying is natural. Crying keeps them alive. Ignoring it is neglect.

Say they have had enough food, and their diaper has just been changed, and they are still crying. They might just need love. They certainly don’t need a piece of plastic shoved in their mouths.

We have to think about the deeper lessons we are teaching children, those lessons we don’t even realize we are teaching them.

“Clean your plate!”

I’m having to retrain myself how to eat. I was taught to “clean my plate” so I often would end up overeating and being miserable. I would also eat fast to make sure I’d eat everything on my lunch break. I’d get the signal that my stomach was full way past the point that I should have stopped.

My trick has been to take whatever it is and cut it in half. I’ll half a frozen dinner after I cooked it and put it in the fridge for tomorrow’s lunch. Then I’ll eat slowly, chewing each bite well. I aim for 20 chews for each mouthful. I’ve heard with macrobiotics you should aim for 100, but that seems excessive. 20 chews is still far better than the grab and gulp mentality of the way I and many other people usually eat.

I try to get less at buffets. Just because it is all you can eat doesn’t mean it is all you should eat. Sure, you’ve paid for as much as you can eat. But there is a hidden cost. If you eat 4 plates of food, you are going to gain a lot of weight.

For some people who are trying to be mindful about their weight, buffets are impossible. They are too much temptation. I like going because there is a lot of variety and a lot of vegetables.

I try to eat slowly at buffets, but it is harder because I haven’t halved my food. When I notice that I’m looking at my plate and thinking that there is still a lot of food left that I have to finish, I take note that I’ve gotten too much and try to get less next time. I’ve also noticed that when I push back from my plate, I’m full. I find I do this unconsciously. I’m trying to notice this sign from my body as a clue it is time to quit.

I’ve heard it takes 20 minutes after you are full for your brain to realize that. In twenty minutes you can shovel a lot more in. Then you’ll feel terrible. But by cutting the food in half the and eating slowly you have a good chance of getting the signal in time. Also, it doesn’t matter if you “feel full” yet or not. You know you have just eaten a whole meal, so quit.

This all takes a lot of unlearning to do, because we have been taught badly.