Food as nourishment – balancing our impulses
‘Mirror, mirror what do I see? Is there a way to be kinder to me?’ …This is my story
Our relationship with eating, and food, is a relationship we will have for our entire life. The most basic reason to eat food is that it keeps us alive, but a more subtle and relevant reason is that it plays an important role in our physical and mental wellbeing. Therefore we should aim to have the best relationship with food we possibly can.
Sound reasonable? Well, my relationship with food hasn’t always been reasonable or one that offered me wellbeing. It’s been a relationship that has been a work in progress for as long as I can remember.
Body image is the perception that a person has of their physical self and the thoughts and feelings that result from that perception. And my body image was distorted for a long time. I always felt that my food intake was something that I needed to control. I had a huge fear that if I didn’t control my food intake that I would become obesely overweight and that was going to make me miserable. Little did I know then that there were and are many overweight people much more genuinely happy than I was when I was underweight.
Whether you are a child, teenager, adult or in your ageing days, we all typically look at ourselves in the mirror on a daily basis. What do you see? Are you kind to what is reflecting back at you or are you more often the harsh critic?
There are many underlying reasons to how we respond to the above inquiry. The food we’ve consumed is just one factor. Our response may be related to age and stage, family patterns, historical events, peers, the media, or whether we’ve exercised today. It’s been scientifically proven that there is a positive relationship with mental health after exercise. As endorphins and serotonin are released in the brain, we often experience mental relief. So looking in a mirror after exercise can be more pleasing. It also depends on how we are feeling, if we are upset or anxious about something, or just attained a personal or professional milestone.
What I see when I look in the mirror is healthier these days compared to my childhood and teenage days but I was recently triggered by a feeling from the past when I saw a skeletal figure on social media. My stomach gripped deeply as if bracing for a punch straight in the gut – an uncomfortable feeling with an incessant bottomless ache. Although it is not me in the picture, all I could see was an earlier version of myself as a teenager that is unhappy, underweight and quite possibly malnourished.
What I try to see today is a beautiful physical form with a little more body curve than years past. I see some lovely lifelines around my eyes and on my forehead and I tell my kids I’ve certainly earned every one of them!
I see a woman who has been a corporate polished professional and other times comfy all day in active gear. I see a devoted but sometimes exhausted wife, mother, family member and friend. Sometimes I can even see my own mother in the mirror, but it’s actually me and have to do a double take.
What my adult self knows now, that I wish I knew as a child and teenager, is that it’s vitally important to distinguish between food as genuine nourishment versus food that is emotionally consumed or withheld in order to try to control something (we think) we can.