Jesse works hard, he has a 1/2 hour lunch break but sometimes works through it. When he is overtired he neglects to plan ahead and either skips lunch or grabs something cheap and handy, nearby. When others bring treats to work, usually cake or donuts, sometimes baking someone has done, he runs for them with the rest of the crowd, whether he is hungry or not because treats are considered rare and they go quickly.
When he gets home, he’s tired, and, often in the evening, he finds himself in front of Netflix with a bag or chips or cookies. He and his partner try to take turns cooking but end up ordering in a couple of nights a week. Neither enjoy grocery shopping and food prep is a chore often avoided. Jerry knows he’s been gaining weight, the stairs are an effort and the last time he saw his doctor his blood pressure was high.
Bessie’s day is filled with food, she does the shopping for herself, her husband and her three kids, often with kids in tow who are arguing, grabbing items off the shelf and whining in the check out line. Snacks for the little ones are often strewn around the house. Complaints about the food are directed at her at almost every meal. Bessie is frustrated at her children’s picky eating and worries about whether they are getting all the nutrician they need. Some weeks she feels on top of things and will try something new, other weeks, she feels burnt out, can’t think of another thing to make. With all the expenses, mortgage payments, car payments, braces for her daughter, a new hot water heater, food is the one place she feels there is a bit of flexibility so she often buys whatever is cheapest and easiest to make.
Bessie’s husband trucks, and is away for days at a time, but helps with dishes and other chores when he is home. His cooking is mostly connected to the BBQ.
Some evenings when her husband is away and her kids are asleep Bessie will eat a large bag of chips or half a bag of cookies. Bessie feels guilty about this but also justified in these little binges as it brings a little comfort into her day.
Neither Jesse nor Bessie would likely be diagnosed with any kind of formal eating disorder but their relationship with food is not a happy and fulfilled on. For Jesse, food is an afterthought leading to feast or famine type scenarios, with little body connection. For Bessie, it’s a chore, even for someone who enjoys cooking, the constant criticism, the tight budget and never-ending numbers of snacks and meals are exhausting. Many of us are unhappy with our relationship to food. We use food for comfort, we feel guilty and our health is suffering as a result. We have ideas about what we ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ eat, but can never seem to follow it perfectly.
If food was a person we cared about and our only response to it was guilt, stress, indifference, or irritation, we’d hopefully start to question the health of that relationship and what needed to change to make it better. For some of us, until our clothes are too tight, or we get a poor score on our annual physical, we don’t necessarily question this relationship or imagine it could be better. For others, the relationship is always strained and guilt is a daily part of it.
Somewhere between indifference, constant guilt, and food as a chore, is the goal of genuinely enjoying food for all the joy that it can bring us.
Working on a relationship involves time. Our relationship with food is no different. Shifting our relationship may start by re-examining our schedules. When we rush around and leave no time for the basics then we cannot enjoy our relationship with food, (or others, including ourselves).
If we are getting burned out by being the only one involved in thinking about preparing and cleaning up around all meals and snacks, we will need to get creative in involving others (and potentially coaching others) on how to take on some of the responsibility for this.
Here are some ways to re-negotiate your relationship with food:
FOOD AS COMMUNITY BUILDING
- Join or start a cooking club – meet once a month to create a large number of meals which can be frozen in advance, or make a large quantity of one dish and trade with others to increase variety. See How to Start a Cooking Club
- Another version of the cooking club includes having 6–12 members, rotating hosts with the hosts preparing a fancy meal for the others each month.
- Try a different restaurant each month.
- Potlucks, weekly, if possible. (See Friendship in Adulthood- Early Adulthood & Young Families and What do Adults do for Fun?
- When you have guests, spend part of your visit preparing and cleaning up together. (Include children in the process, when possible, for example, try a sushi making party, or a perogy making party).
- Make a schedule of who is responsible for meals on which day. Have everyone plan ahead and include their ingredients on the grocery list the week before (provide help if this is new to some members of the family or as is age appropriate).
- Take out colourful recipe books from the library and let kids choose some meals to help make from them.
- Bring kids shopping, have them add up the grocery costs on a calculator as you shop, so they come to understand the costs and can keep their own meal plans within budget when they participate in meal planning.
- Buy one new item from a different part of the store each time you shop for groceries, incorporate it into a meal.
- Plan a month of meals that originate from a specific ethnic group.
- Watch cooking shows, but limit the time you spend doing this and challenge yourself to make one item for every couple of shows you watch. If you love these shows, research new ones and challenge yourself to try something outside of your comfort zone.
- Try out a wide variety of restaurants, consider how often to plan to eat out, based on budget. Focus on independent and locally owned to ensure variety. Take turns picking new places to each each month, or however often you plan this. You can also start a family restaurant review blog.
- Add music to prep, eating and cleaning up times. Practice your ‘dancing chef’ moves. Try a variety of music styles to either compliment or inspire your meal.
- Light candles at your dinner table.
FOOD AS CONNECTION TO THE PLANET
- Learn about and try the 100 mile diet .
- If you eat meat, visit farms that produce that kind of meat. Watch production from beginning to end.
- Volunteer at, and/or donate to a food bank to help alleviate food insecurity in your city or area. In Winnipeg you can volunteer at Winnipeg Harvest.
- Learn about food security issues in your community, in Canada, Food Secure Canada, in Manitoba Food Matters Manitoba can provide more information about this.
- Start a small vegetable and herb garden, use containers if you don’t have the yard space. Find out if there is a community garden in your neighbourhood. Watch the process from seed to food. Let kids choose some seeds to plan and care for on their own.
- Learn about seedsaving and preserves, many community centres and neighbourhood organizations offer workshops on this.
- Plan a food based vacation. Go somewhere specifically because of the food. Bring home recipes, ingredients, seeds, etc. as souvenirs.
REDUCING CRITICISM AT THE TABLE
Suggested rule: No complaining about food until you’ve tried it. If you don’t like it after you’ve tried two bites, you can have something else. (Avoid snack food or things like cereal, or toast as an alternative, instead offer leftovers from a previous meal and or fruit).
Suggested rule: Two compliments for every criticism of food.
OTHER WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD
- Do not speak about food in terms of bad or good, but focus on nutritional value and taste. Talk about how you feel afterwards, sleepy, energetic, sore stomach, etc.
- Ask kids how hungry they are and how much they think they should have based on that feeling, before advising or giving permission regarding snacks or second helpings. Ask yourself the same questions.
- Keep water as a standard drink at all meals with only very occasional exceptions on special occasions.
Food is an essential part of life and provides the energy to do all that we need to do in a day. If we can shift the way we engage with it our health, and our quality of life has potential to improve greatly. By doing this we prevent further disordered relationships with food and demonstrate to the next generation how to love food and have food love them back.