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Love Food. Love Self.

Posted Aug 03 2010 5:15pm
Alright folks, we're going to get personal.

This blog did not start as a "healthy living" blog, but rather as one for me to share my love of food and healthy cooking. I consider myself fortunate that I have ended up in the healthy living (rather than just cooking) category anyway, because I do look at my tendency towards sharing life as I live it as a good development, since I receive such positive feedback about helping others in their quests for more nutritious lifestyles and being (dare I say it) inspirational in journeys towards wellness.

Every time I discover an e-mail in my inbox regarding this, or hear from anyone that a recipe they tried actually made them excited about a new, healthy food, my heart flutters a little bit, and I am so immensely happy. Who knew that even in such a short time my little old blog could actually inspire someone (or multiple someones)?

I feel, then, that it is only fair for me to share a little about my personal "journey to wellness" with y'all. I have been thinking about it for awhile, and how to frame it, as, unlike many others, I don't have one defining moment when I changed my life for the better. But then I found out about Operation Beautiful's Change the Way You See, Not the Way You Look campaign, and I thought, "Maybe now is the time."
So here we go. Read it if you like, but never fear: I'll be back with my general leanings towards randomness and light, fluffy fun tomorrow. :)

I now present to you a little piece I like to call Love Food. Love Self.
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My old roommate's mom once looked at me as I was hunched over a pot on the stove and said, "I just don't understand how you can love food so much and be so thin."

Well, here's the thing. I know they say that you can't trust a skinny cook, or something to that effect, but I have found that it was actually through loving food that I learned to love my body and myself.

Because when it comes down to it, the simple fact is: I. Love. Food.

I love the crunch of a carrot, the crisp fresh taste of a perfect apple, and the juicy sweetness of an overripe peach or a plump, in season grape.

I love the salty taste of thick-cut bacon, and the first bite of a smoky grilled burger.

I love buttery avocado and the cool, smooth milkshakes.

I love the warmth of fresh baked bread, broken open to reveal a soft, chewy interior.

I love the joyful surprise of an unexpected, but delightful, flavor pairing, and the playfulness of combining tastes and textures: sweet and salty, creamy and nutty.

Food is what I spend my time thinking about, what I prefer to read about, and what I inevitably end up talking about in social situations. [Even more so now that I tend to be carrying around a big camera and leaning in close to my meal to snap a photo.] My free time is spent inventing, creating, concocting, planning, theorizing, and daydreaming about recipes I might try or how to write about it later.

My friend Erin once said, following a meal in which I most likely closed my eyes and made lots of "oh my goll!"-type moans of exultation, "Sarah, you find more joy in your lunch than anyone else I have ever met."

Was I always like this? I don't know. I was spending time in the kitchen even as a small child.
Although I apparently preferred to model my sun bonnet and read poetry rather than actually cook.
I also have always had an interest in knowing where my food came from.
But I'm not sure at this point I realized that by petting that cow I was also, in a weird way, petting my milk.
I've lost a lot of weight since college, it's true. But it wasn't a conscious decision. At least there was no one "saw a picture of myself and knew I had to change my life" moment. What happened, instead, was that I learned to revel in food and exercise, in preparation and performance (if we want to get alliterative, and don't we always?) I also learned to savor food, and by doing so, I learned how to eat well, nourishing my body and maintaining an overall 'balanced' lifestyle.

I actually think this e-mail I received sums it up best
Also, a side note...I use to think you had gotten too super skinny and it worried me. From reading your blog, I have learned that you have adopted a most healthy and balanced life and I'm envious and proud (more so envious and jealous to be really honest, mixed with true happiness for the balance you have found). You are glowing....and healthy (still super skinny, in a good way :-)!!).

Growing up, I was never what you would call skinny, in fact, I was definitely more on the chubby side. Never the thinnest of the girl cousins, I distinctly remember my grandmother once telling me I wasn't allowed to have a snack before dinner, despite the fact that she'd just given my brother a granola bar. I remember never worrying too much about my body in middle school. I am a strange duck in that I actually LOVED middle school. I had fabulous teachers, lots of friends, and although I was definitely awkward in the braces-and-acne kind of way, I had high self-esteem [guidance counselor buzzword? check!], and my weight wasn't an issue for me. In fact, I came home every day and sat down to carefully laid out Oreos or Nutter Butters and milk, with a side of Oprah. My dad would entreat me to "go out and ride my bike," but I was much more content reading.

I think it was around the time I started high school that I started to recognize that I could be thinner, or that there was even a correlation between food, exercise, and outward appearance. [Maybe it was all that Oprah watching?] My mom was starting the Sugar Busters diet, and I decided I was going to try to do it too. I remember walking around the neighborhood, turning away cinnamon rolls for breakfast, and eating lots of yogurt (which, ironically, was full of sugar). I started the pattern of eating from salad bar with fat free dressing almost every day for lunch. (Sometimes with a side of french fries or ice cream. Nonsensical? Yes.)

When I worked at a coffee shop in high school, I simultaneously started going on my own to the Y to exercise most days. I learned to love using the elliptical machine, and the way I felt after working out, but I didn't really lose a drastic amount of weight. I felt better and healthier, certainly, but still loved to heat up the coffee shop's peanut butter cookies in the microwave and eat the melty goodness, as well as take home the leftover bakery items at the end of the day and indulge in them for dessert. I guess I felt healthier, but exercise was still more of an afterthought, or a way to keep my jeans from getting too tight. [I also hoped that one day Justin Timberlake would show up at my doorstep, and I wanted to make sure I looked good for him.]

In college I was known for going to the gym every single morning, regardless of how late we'd stayed up (or out) the night before. I wasn't a hardcore gym rat or anything; I did my 30-45 minutes on the elliptical machine, and certainly never ran or lifted weights,. I just looked at it as a way to maintain my current weight, and it was a great way to start my day. I felt much happier when I worked out. [This would be the discovery of natural endorphins, not that I knew it at the time.] I was known for my baking, and spent an incredible amount of time searching for new and indulgent concoctions to bake, and probably an excessive amount of money baking for my roommates, friends, and clubs. People would come to expect that I'd always have something sweet with me, even if I was on my way to class.
My lovely friend Molly and I also made an overabundance of cheeseballs...and no, I'm not describing our personalities, although that is quite fitting.
It was in college, through baking, that I learned to love the act of food preparation, and appreciate the way that you can express your feelings and give of yourself through food. Of course, this meant that I would eat brownies for dinner (with a side of salad) many nights. I was clearly not excessively overweight, but definitely heavier than I am now.
It was in my 5th year of college, when I was finishing my Masters of Teaching, that I really started to love and learn about food. I had always enjoyed reading my stepmom's collection of Cooking Light magazines when I would be home visiting, and she bought me a subscription that year. I decided that, although I loved baking, I wanted to make a conscious effort to learn how to cook.

So I did. After all, if you love something, don't you naturally want to learn more about it? I read all the cooking magazines I could get my hands on. I began to watch The Food Network even more religiously, and I DVRed The Rachael Ray Show every day.

Inevitably, I also started reading health and wellness magazines. I would ignore all of the make-up and fashion tips, and turn directly to the nutrition and cooking sections. I started to build up a knowledge of not only what was healthy but why it was healthy. I learned that food is fuel, and we should put the best fuel into our bodies that we can! I began to notice how much better I felt eating a "clean" diet, and worked to consciously balance my meals and be aware of caloric intake.

My "little" (sorority sister) also told me, "Pembs, cardio is great, but build some muscle!" in her playful way. So I started doing some light weightlifting. I also ran every now and then, and started to love feeling toned and powerful.

All of that combined led to weight coming off. I was aware of it since I started to wear smaller and smaller sizes, and I loved thinking of myself as "much more photogenic," but I also just felt SO GOOD on the inside. That's me at my brother's wedding, the summer after I graduated from my Masters program. I was eating well, and had become a vegetarian for the summer since that meant I could eat better food at camp, where I was a counselor. I also was Head of the Waterfront, meaning I was swimming a TON every day, and I fell in love with sliding through the water and pushing myself athletically.

I held on to my love of good food and exercise throughout the next year, and weight kept coming off. Some people thought I was TOO skinny, and questioned me and my health. Sure, I had acquired a pretty accurate internal calorie counter, and I did work out a lot, but I felt good. I felt strong. I felt healthy.

I still loved food and cooking. I remember spending Saturday nights at home whipping up Greek or Asian feasts for myself while my friends would go out drinking and dancing. I would spend hours in preparation and be quite content becoming absorbed in my creation.

Since then, I have cultivated an even stronger love for food and all that it does. I am fascinated by how it functions scientifically and anatomically to keep our bodies healthy and strong. I love how food can console and comfort, or play a prominent role in some of the most celebratory moments of our lives. I find catharsis in cutting up vegetables for soup, and serenity in slicing through fresh melons and big, fat, tomatoes.

Food is love. Food is life.

It is culture and community. It is history and heritage.

It is common ground. It connects and inspires. It reveals our compassion and represents our empathy.

By loving food, and learning about it, I also learned what was truly remarkable and what was commonplace. I could savor the small joys of momentary food bliss, indulge in the unique and extravagant, while recognizing that that bag of chips is 1) not going to do me any favors, but more importantly, 2) isn't going anywhere, and I don't need to eat them all (or any) right now.

Lots of bloggers have been discussing intuitive eating lately, and I totally believe that this is the way to go in terms of deciding what to eat, when to eat, and how to approach food. I actually began to follow the intuitive eating principles without knowing that's what they were, and have been SO much happier for it. I do try to eat what my body is craving, regardless of it is an "acceptable" food choice, but my body does just so happen to crave lots of fresh, crunchy vegetables! I'm not lying!

Yes, occasionally I will feel guilty about eating half a pint (or a whole pint) of ice cream in one sitting, or when I look down and realize that the nut butter jar is now almost empty, but the truth of the matter is, once I realized that I can always go buy more cheese, that M&Ms will always be manufactured and available at any corner store, and firmly implanted/accepted the fact that fried foods + my stomach = issues, I didn't feel the need to eat them "with abandon." This idea of "willpower" comes from knowing you can always eat it later, or have it again. [This is probably why I ate an average of 14 pineapples a day in Costa Rica, because they would never be as fresh again, or ate an intense amount of food when it was prepared for us on the beach by very excellent chefs, since I would never be able to re-create that experience!]

I'm not perfect, and I'm not pretending to be...I am definitely still working on the 'good food'/'bad food' idea, turning off the pretty constant calorie-counter in my brain, and not beating myself up if I don't exercise every day, but I know how my body reacts to a lot of those "bad" foods, and so I don't eat them, even if they might taste really good at the time...and exercising makes me feel good, healthy, and happy...thus I want to do it.

To me, loving food, means loving food.

Real. Good. Healthy. Nutritious. Decadent. Unique. Creative. Beautiful. Natural. Simple. Food.

Learning to love and appreciate it, to savor and revel in it, led me to a healthy balance.

Love Food. Love Self.
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I'm not sure if I all of that made any sense. My verbosity usually gets the best of me. It's been a long time since I had to construct a well thought out essay. But maybe you learned something. Maybe not. Either way. I hope you learn to love food too. [If you don't already. :)]
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