Getting down to the core of it How our beliefs affect our eating

Although Cane and I are awfully dang serious about making a good life for our family, we generally do so here without getting too serious. We like to laugh, and we try not to get too heavy about anything. Hence, we’ve shared things like this with you:

Cane under the tub

The tub might look heavy, but it's really not. That's why he's smiling. That and because the whole thing was just ridiculous.

But honestly, truthfully, this whole business of going gluten-free has taken me quickly into serious territory. Examining-the-meaning-of-life serious. Excavating-the-past, exploring-pain, and questioning-values serious. (Who’d a thought bread and pasta carried such heavy baggage?)

As I thought about what to share in today’s post, I was hesitant to take you readers along with me. This (sorta) Old Life is mostly a light place for us, and my new food territory is not only serious, but dark. (At least in some places.) I’ve wondered if what I’m discovering about food is really of much interest to anyone but me and others who are gluten-intolerant. I’ve wondered if it would be best in our Friday Food series to just focus on sharing some good recipes that anyone might like, and leave it at that.

lemon chicken

This lemon chicken was one of the hits from this week. Maybe it would be better to just write about how I made it and why we liked it?

However, some correspondence with a blogging friend earlier this week has convinced me to invite you to come along with me. Back in January (when gluten wasn’t even on my radar), I resolved to be real this year, especially with food. And while we know many of you land here because of your interest in home design, for us the blog’s true topic has always been living life better–whether that’s through making a comfortable home, loving each other well, or finding a balance between always-competing needs. This business about food…well, it’s become all about living a better life. Not just a healthier one, but a better one.

So if you’re game, let’s go…

Writing this post, I realized that going gluten-free was going to fundamentally challenge and change me. I knew it wasn’t going to be just about food. I think that’s why I looked for a book recommended by a friend more than a year ago:  Geneen Roth’s Women, Food and God:  An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything. (And just so you know, this isn’t an affiliate link. We haven’t even begun to figure out how to do things like that yet!)

stack of gluten-free books

The books that have been my sustenance this week.

Only a few pages into the book, I encountered these words:

“To discover what you really believe, pay attention to the way you act…. Pay attention to what you value. Pay attention to how and on what you spend your time. Your money. And pay attention to the way you eat.

You will quickly discover if you believe the world is a hostile place and that you need to be in control of the immediate universe for things to go smoothly. You will discover if you believe there is not enough to go around and that taking more than you need is necessary for survival. You will find out if you believe that being quiet is unbearable, and that being alone means being lonely. If feeling your feelings means being destroyed. If being vulnerable is for sissies or if opening to love is a big mistake. And you will discover how you use food to express each one of these core beliefs.” (page 16 and 17, emphasis mine)

How we use food expresses our core beliefs.

OK, then. How do I use food?

Roth’s book is aimed primarily at those who eat compulsively, but that’s not me. I’m probably the opposite of a compulsive eater. I forget to feed myself. Until, of course, I suddenly realize I’m ravenous–and then I scarf down whatever’s quickest and easiest. Looking at this, I realized that this is how I use food:

  • I ignore food (and my body) because I get too wrapped up in all the things I want to do.
  • I use food to kill something–hunger–rather than to feed something (my body and my spirit).
  • I use food to make my tastebuds feel good. If it doesn’t taste good, I usually won’t eat it. Even if there’s nothing else to eat.
  • I fail to feed myself because I don’t take the time–don’t want to use time–to prepare food.
  • I waste money because I buy food that I don’t prepare before it spoils, and I eat out because I don’t want to cook.
vanilla shake from Burgerville

This was "lunch" one day not too long ago.

What do my actions reveal about my beliefs?

What I see when I look at the way I use food is a failure to take care of my body–which is a failure to take care of me. What I see when I scratch below the surface of my behavior are some core beliefs that are more than uncomfortable to own.

  • I can’t do all the things I want to do.
  • Food isn’t that important.
  • Short-term pleasure is more important than long-term pain.
  • I’m not worth the effort it would take to eat in a healthy way.
  • I don’t need to worry about how I eat.

Ouch.

I know the sources of each of these beliefs. They go way back, and while digging into them is important for me, I don’t know how important it is for anyone else that I share much about it. Let’s just say I was a skinny girl growing up in a family where most of the women I loved struggled with obesity, I was a painfully shy girl who felt no acceptance from boys until my appearance conformed to standard ideas of physical beauty (and then I felt angry at the difference in how I was treated), and I’ve struggled with various health issues since adolescence.

two young women

Me with a favorite cousin when we were in our 20s. I've learned that celiacs are often very thin (because their bodies aren't absorbing nutrients).

How can any of this help you?

Cane and I both believe in the power of storytelling, that is it is in hearing others tell their stories that we can begin to see and make sense of our own. That is why story is the thing that holds most of our posts (and the blog as a whole) together.

For me, the thing about truth is this:  Once you’ve seen it, you can’t go back to not-seeing. I can’t un-know that those wrong ideas of mine have been core beliefs. And while there was some pain in looking head-on at them, that pain is a key that’s setting me free from years of dysfunctional behavior around food.

A few weeks back, I shared some angst about giving up the foods I love. Honestly, I didn’t know how I was going to tolerate the things it seemed I was going to have to do:

  • Give up the breads and pastas that have long been my comfort foods
  • Never again eat some of my favorite treats
  • Learn all new ways of cooking
  • Give up my convenience foods
sugar cookies

Christmas cookies from a recipe my Grandma used to use.

And I can tell you I was not surrendering to this truth. I was fighting it. Hard. And then, after I read Roth’s words and began looking for the beliefs driving my actions around food, I felt a shift. It got just a little easier.

And then, I got sick for the third time since I dropped gluten from my diet. It was an accident–I didn’t realize that soy sauce contains gluten. I just felt so crappy when the bad feeling descended. I’d been wondering if we have some kind of extra sensitivity to gluten once we get it out of our systems, because it has seemed that I now have an extreme reaction to any amount of it, but a different idea about that occurred to me:

Maybe it’s always made me feel this bad, and I just didn’t realize it because that was what normal felt like to me.

What happened next was more than a shift. It was tectonic plates moving under the surface of my life.

I no longer wanted all that stuff I thought I couldn’t bear to live without.

coffee shop treat

I look at bread and I see pain.

I look at pasta and I see fatigue.

I look at pastries and I see mental fog.

And I don’t want any of it.

There’s no willpower involved. There’s no feeling of deprivation. There’s no angst. It’s become quite simple: I just don’t want it.

I want to feel good more than I want to eat that stuff–because I’ve seen the core beliefs that were driving me to it, and I know that more core beliefs were just flat-out wrong.  

Here’s what I know (and am working on deep-down believing) now:

  • I can do all the things I want to do–if I figure out better ways to live.
  • Food is important. It affects everything:  time, money, energy.
  • A fleeting feel good doesn’t make up for crappy health.
  • If I want to be and do all that I dream of, I must make food a priority.
  • I’m worth the effort.

Just the beginning

There’s more I’m discovering, with Roth’s help. (I’m telling you, this is not just a book for those who have issues with over-eating. It is for anyone who wants deeper understanding of their relationship with food.) Those are topics for another day.

What I want to suggest for anyone reading today is this:  If food is any kind of issue for you–

  • You want to eat foods that are more healthy
  • You want (or need) to avoid certain foods
  • You want food to occupy an easier place in your life
  • You want to eat more or less
  • You want to gain or lose weight

–before you do anything differently, you  might start by paying attention to the way you eat, and then see what underlying beliefs are revealed through the way you eat.

I certainly know very little at this point, but I’m confident that the answers we need are not to be found in particular diets, promises to reward ourselves for “good” behavior, and deprivation. That’s just treating the symptoms, not the disease.

Not only am I not craving the foods I know will hurt me, I am also, for the first time ever in my life, beginning to take some pleasure in the whole business of making and eating food.

I promise to share some of the great new food we’ve found that anyone would like in the next Friday Food!

chicken fried chicken

Last night's dinner: Chicken-friend chicken breasts, with no flour. (Cornstarch, baby: My new wonder food.) Even the kids liked it!

Your turn:

If any of this speaks to you, I’d so love it if you’d speak to me about it. I’d like to know if writing about this stuff is helpful to anyone else (or if I should just get on with it already and focus on other things). My sense is that many, many of us have real issues around how we feed ourselves (and I’m not just talking about food.) It would be great if we could share what’s working for us here.