To All The Foods I’ve Loved Before.
In the 2018 teen romance film, To All the Boys I Loved Before, high school junior Lara Jean Covey, writes letters to boys she loves locking them away in her closet, never to send. Until her younger sister finds them and decides to mail each one to the boy it addressed. You can imagine the events that follow (if you haven’t seen it yet, I do recommend it!).
When I watched this with a good friend of mine I told her, man, this makes me think of a lot of things like my relationship with food. Our relationship with food, especially the food we obsess and pine for, is one we often try to lock up – never to be truly seen for what it is. But what if we unlocked it? What if we mailed the letter? What if we got it all out in the open? What would our life feel like then?
This is me, mailing my letter to all the foods I’ve loved before.
Dear Foods I’ve Loved Before,
For a long while, I classified you as bad, attaching some morality to you instead of focusing on the bigger questions and bigger truths.
- You are inanimate.
- You do not have thoughts or feelings.
- You do not have bodily sensations.
- You can’t even choose me.
And yet, you with the help of your friend who I like to refer to as “the matchmaker and fixer”, Marketing, we found each other and I loved you. Oh cereal, you were my first. Count Chocula, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Lucky Charms, we met when I was young, impressionable by your bright packaging and toys inside – I knew you had to be for me. We met, and the rest was history. I loved the sparkly, toasted wafers, the chocolate for breakfast, and the marshmallows. I became addicted to the immediate highs I received from you – the jolt of energy as I got every last bite of you. I literally ate you up! After grad school when I moved away to another country I helplessly scanned the bright packaging in a language I did not understand until one day, I found someone just like you. It was chocolate, crunch granola, so much more sophisticated. I was living in Europe after all. My fix was met and I returned nearly every day to sweep you off the shelf.
Next, I’ll never forget when Marketing introduced me to “fat-free and low fat”. Marketing pointed a finger at Fat and told me he was no good for me. Marketing was always so in-the-know, so I believed him. I did my best to not let Fat sit at my table, and whenever our paths crossed at a party or any place I couldn’t control I immediately turned the other way. Skim milk, fat-free yogurt, fat-free protein shakes, Diet Coke, low-fat instant microwaveable meals, low-fat mac-n-cheese – you all shared this great quality! I became prideful having you in my hand, for all to see, I was with you. You were my trend that helped me look good, and I was sure you were helping me feel good. Without fat-free and low-fat I’m not sure what would’ve been left in my college diet.
Oh, wait, of course I know what was left …Candy. Oh, candy, Bottlecaps (strawberry and rootbeer I’m looking at you), Runts (banana, oh banana), and peanut butter M&Ms you guys were always in for a good time. Do you remember when we would pull all-nighters and you were what got me through? There’d be me, my books, and candy. I could never have just one of you, as hard as I would try. I had to have all of you.
Our 25-Year Relationship.
But over the course of our 25-year relationship, my high after seeing you was always short-lived. My satisfaction and pleasure were quickly replaced with a gurgling in my belly. My body was still hungry. My body was craving nourishment, although I refused to recognize it like that at the time.
Angered I would tell myself “I just ate. I’m not eating again right now. I shouldn’t be hungry already.”
I placed the blame and shame on me, over and over again for years.
I went back for more of you, looking forward to the moment we’d meet again, and sometimes if I’m being honest I even dreamt of you. I should’ve known the relationship was not built on solid ground because at times I would hide you. I would hide the fact our paths ever crossed and only meet you when I was sure no one would know. It’s a sad and shameful feeling hiding. But, I’ll be the first to admit that the hiding within our relationship is on me. It is on me for having believed so much of what diet culture prescribes, and so when I failed to meet “the standards”, I hid in shame. In fact, you probably would’ve loved our relationship being more out in the open. But I just couldn’t do it – at least not with some of you.
As I Got Older.
As I got older I realized a few things. I no longer attached a good/bad morality to you. Instead, I realized those bigger truths and those deeper questions.
- While you don’t have thoughts and feelings, I do. I felt so depleted after being with you. Those all-nighters, when I thought you were the one getting me through? I started to wonder if you were the one causing it to be an all-nighter.
- I started asking myself: Why am I feeling depleted and even shameful at times? Do I have any food fears? Where do those come from? Why am I trying to hide our relationship? How can I have a relationship with food unabashedly? What do I envision my ideal relationship with food to be like? How can what I envision become reality?
- While you don’t have bodily sensations, I do and I started listening to them. I started tuning in and respecting my hunger cues. I started learning what it felt like when my body felt nourished completely, and what it felt like when my body did not. I brought the ideas and experiences of pleasure and fullness back to my food! Yes, with some of you there were joyous moments, but I wanted to know why the joy was short-lived both in my body and mind.
- I started asking myself: How does my body respond to you? How pleasurable is our time together? How satisfied and full do you make me feel? If it’s pleasurable at the time, but I’m left feeling not full what could that mean?
- While you are inanimate and cannot move, learn, and do, I can. While I went through middle school, high school, undergraduate, and then graduate school thinking about you much the same way, 2011 I began to shift. I met my now-husband, Dr. Pete who gently helped me see other ways. In 2015, with my first pregnancy and twins, I leaned into learning and doing by my body hard. In 2018 I went back to school again to be certified as an integrative health and nutrition coach. I studied mindful and intuitive eating, along with many other dietary theories. My awareness of how diet culture literally touches every part of our lives both food and not food grew. I am doing the work to unlearn the social norms and get back to what I envision wellness truly looks like. It’s not a destination I am finding, but a practice.
- I started asking myself: What can I do to feel more pleasure, more enjoyment, more fullness with my food? What can I do to feel less restriction, guilt, shame, judgment when it comes to food? How can I practice and coach others on their wellness journey without feeding into the diet culture mentality of right vs. wrong way of doing/eating/being? How can I practice and coach others on leaning into ourselves more for answers?
- And while you can’t choose me, I can choose me and whatever else I want. I don’t have a clever, oftentimes manipulative fixer of a friend like Marketing. BUT I do have THE most intelligent, resilient, self-healing friend, my own body. When my belly gurgled, when my digestion was off, and when my skin inflamed, my body was there trying to tell me all along to rethink what this relationship was giving me.
My body never minced words, it was speaking loud and clear.
I just wasn’t listening to her. I didn’t value her input.
- I started asking myself: What is my body signaling to me? What is it that I want? What is it that I need? Am I listening to myself and what I truly want, unapologetically?
I do not look at you now with disgust, I did for a long time. You are what you are, and I would be denying and disrespecting my own journey if I did not see how you served me. But I can look at you now with no desire because I know, deep down, you are not for me.
- You are not for me brightly colored packages of processed breakfast claiming you have just what I need to start my day off right.
- You are not for me fat-free and low-fat.
- You are not for me colorful sugar pieces.
No hard feelings but my body and I have found other foods that give us more.
We have found foods that satisfy and honor both my sweet tooth AND my hunger!
As an integrative health coach, I could warn others to not give in to the kind of relationship I had – to not see you at all or give you the time of day. I could call you “no good” but that is not how I want to coach, educate, and be in life. It is not for me to say or decide what you are or are not in someone’s life. I want to empower others to know themselves so well, body and mind, that they may confidently decide what will be best for them, whatever that may be.
My goal as a coach is to bring my clients back to their best, most reliant, inner knowing and gauge of what is not, and what is for them — their own body and free will. I do this through integrative health and gentle nutrition, empathy, curiosity, and autonomy.
So to You, Foods I’ve Loved Before I Say …
Thank you for some of those pick-me-ups, they weren’t all shameful. Thank you for giving me the perspective I have today. While you are not for me, I still hope the best for you. I really think with the help of your best friend Marketing and your parents, Research & Design, you could have a more two-way relationship. Sure, the fast highs are fun, your promises of quick-fixes may be easy to roll off the tongue, and you certainly don’t take yourself too seriously, which is a commendable characteristic. But you could have a longer, more fruitful relationship that is a two-way street. Up to you of course.
I urge you to consider:
- What would it do for my relationship with others if I, my parents Research & Design and my matchmaking friend Marketing, had people’s best wellbeing in mind?
- How can I bring my positive qualities to a longer, more sustainable relationship with others?
You have great connections and money. Your parents are super smart and your friend Marketing, well, he’s sure to always be your wingman. You have a lot going for you, I know you can figure this out.
P.S. To all those reading – If you are interested in exploring your relationship with food further and what listening to your body and food freedom could look like in your life let’s chat! I would love to guide you on this journey and help you write your letter!
P.P.S. I encourage you to take a moment and Self-Search below. I promise, no one has to read it, you don’t have to mail the letter unless you want to!
To begin, take a deep breath in and let it out.
Take each prompt/question in, then think about it and what it means for you. There are no wrong answers, but your answers. Lean into those.
To the Foods I Have Loved Before,
- Let me start by saying you are not bad or good you just are.
- If I’m being honest I think of you as …
- Looking back, I remember meeting you ….
- You always have a way of making me feel ….. When we are together.
- After we meet, I feel …
- Since we’ve known each other I always wondered …
- When I really think about it, my body tells me …
- But I just want …
- My hope for our future is ….
- For me, I’m going to focus on …
- And for you, I hope you …
- Here is my signoff and final words …
If you feel comfortable sharing any thoughts or questions that sparked for you I would love to hear – so write them below in the comments. We can learn so much from one another all while we do some learning of our own.
Thanks for being here and holding space for you and me.
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Dina, I enjoyed your post, such an interesting way of framing these foods as a business’s “product ” rather than actual sustenance.
Glad you found it interesting!