Food Evolutions

Now that Maya is starting to eat solids (rice cereal with her 10 AM feeding — soon to be coupled with fruit; a veggie with her 4 PM feeding; a little more cereal with her 7 PM feeding), a whole new world has opened up for our family.

Watching her slurp up her solids (and getting them ALL over her face or all over ME when she blows raspberries with a full mouth [manners will come later!]), attempt to “chew” with her gums, and open her little birdie mouth for the spoon (it’s the cutest thing!) I got to thinking about how my own relationship with food has evolved since my infancy.

I’ve said before that my disordered habits didn’t begin til 2005, a year AFTER I lost weight on Weight Watchers. But looking back at my food history, I noticed there were some not-so-obvious hints at a future problem.

I could sum my evolution in seven phases: Childhood (ages 0-13), High School, College, Weight Watchers, Borderline Orthorexia, Chewing/Spitting, Pregnancy, and Now.

I was a picky eater growing up, but had no choice in what I ate; I couldn’t exactly buy my own food at age three! So my parents would encourage me to try something at least once, if not more times, before I could declare it gross.  (And I don’t care what you say, tuna casserole will always be gross to me!). My parents would take us out to eat maybe once a weekend or so, and there would be the occasional McDonald’s meal but generally my mom was the master chef; my dad the master griller. Since my mom only baked three times a year (for our birthdays: 9/13, 9/29, 10/2), fruit or Jello were our typical desserts. And though my dad always had chips at home, there wasn’t a ton of junk food at home. Overall, I would say I had a healthy relationship with food growing up.

Possible red flag in hindsight: I was a picky eater which I ended up, later in life, using as a crutch for why I wouldn’t eat certain things.

High School
Freshman year of high school I went to a friend’s house where I tried fat-free peach frozen yogurt (Turkey Hill brand, if I’m not mistaken!) for the first time … and was hooked. I had never dieted a day in my life, and didn’t intend to then, either, but would love to go over her house because I knew I’d have fro-yo …What I didn’t like about going over was that we could be there all day and wouldn’t eat otherwise … so I’d come home hungry because I was too ashamed to ask for more than just fro-yo. I was active throughout high school, cheering, running track and coaching — and by sophomore year my body had thinned out. A Varsity cheerleader who competed before hundreds of people at games and thousands at competitions, I felt good in my own skin. I wasn’t the thinnest on my cheerleading squad, but it didn’t matter; I was a base — strong and sturdy — and my muscular build worked to my advantage. Other than enjoying fat-free fro yo, I had no outward issues with food or exercise: I ate what I wanted (including enjoying our squad’s weekly Pizza Hut tradition) and ran whenever I could. I was fit and happy.

Possible red flag in hindsight: I was introduced to the world of fat-free foods.

A world opened up for me in college. American University, my alma mater, has an amazing dining hall called TDR or, more formally, the Terrace Dining Room. Though we teased about TDR all the time in college, I’ve been to other universities and let me tell you, ours was among the best if you like to eat. It’s run by Sodexho-Marriott and it was an all-you-can-eat buffet with plenty of food stations and make your own stations, too — and there was even a special “late night” meal which no one REALLY needed but, hey, it was the place to be certain nights of the week to see and be seen. Anyway, even back then, I was pretty routine in my food choices in spite of the bounty before me each day. I rotated between a buttery grilled cheese, a grilled chicken sandwich, a grilled chicken salad or chicken stir-fry. Sometimes I’d take a little of different options and chuck it after a bite or two. And there was always soft-serve fro-yo and fruit for dessert. I definitely wasn’t on a health kick in college, that’s for sure!! In spite of walking everywhere, I gained probably 15 pounds on my semester abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina — the food was rich and decadent and I said no to nothing (except for blood sausage and milanesa, two Argentine “delights” which, the thoughts of today, still make me gag!). I also drank a lot that semester — empty calories I didn’t need. I didn’t lose the weight even after graduation, and then I started grad school and entered the work force where, in spite of the gym, I sat at a desk all day … it was a recipe for disaster.

Possible red flag in hindsight: Food destruction/wastefulness began (albeit innocently enough). I didn’t respect the food on my plate or my choices, so after a bite I’d throw it out.

Weight Watchers
I began journaling April 13, 2004 and never looked back. At first it was fun, logging Points and exercise Points. I treated my Points like a bank, always trying to make sure I broke even or had a deficit each day — the goal was never to “spend” more than I “earned” and the mentality worked, helping to visualize what was happening inside my body. I was pretty determined and saw slow, steady losses, even eating treats (For example,  I’d save a third of my Points for a single treat on Fridays (a real Potbelly cookie, or something similar).I ate what I wanted and found a way to make it work into my Points by exercising portion control. I lost 35 pounds from April to December, and felt amazing, going from a size 12/14 to a 6. A few months in, I learned how to “work” the system and realized that a vanilla Skinny Cow ice cream sandwich was only 2 Points … so I’d have two! I lived on Smart Ones and Lean Cuisine meals and 100-cal packs; processed stuff that I could easily count the Points of. I didn’t cook and I brought the same.exact.thing. for lunch EVERY SINGLE DAY not because I liked it so much, but because I knew EXACTLY how many Points it was.

Possible red flag in hindsight: Obsession with journaling and exercise; obsession with calories/Points; I’d eat fat free/sugar-free substitutes of everything.-

Borderline Orthorexia
Once I started losing weight, I began shunning a ton of foods. I would avoid desserts and anything “fattening.” I stopped enjoying a glass of wine here and there; I would only drink Diet Coke when I went to a bar or out to dinner. I became a food czarina of the worst kind — the kind who discussed out loud (and ad nauseum) what choices she was making and why … making those around her uncomfortable because — though in my head it was never my intent — it often either made them feel guilty for their choices or annoyed the hell out of them. I drove myself mad … and it left me craving all the things I was “being good and avoiding.” I was very much an all-or-nothing eater. And in this case, it meant restricting — not NOT eating (I could never do that and knew enough to know I needed to fuel my body) but rather just eating very, very selectively.

Possible red flag in hindsight: See above!

This anxious behavior, chewing and spitting, was a direct result of my restrictive, obsessive ways … this was a three + year period where I began tempting myself with foods I had previously avoided and well, chewed and spit them out. It’s not something I’m proud of, but I did it and for far longer than I ever should have. I stopped this behavior in March 2009, but it was a long, long road to get here. Emotional eating became a big problem for me during this time, as well.

I did, indeed, recover and began loosening up my rigid, restrictive ways in order to have a healthier relationship with food. I started ordering what I REALLY wanted when I’d go out to eat — but would eat a sensible portion of it. I stopped eating substitutes of everything under the sun, and began eating real food again. It’s like I went full-circle back to my childhood. I didn’t fear food anymore, but rather saw it as a pleasurable component of life. In time, I began to eat more intuitively, more mindfully.

I had been fully recovered (save for emotional eating; I think many of us struggle with that!) for a year and a half before becoming pregnant in May 2010. In pregnancy, it’s as though my eyes were fully opened and so was my mind. I really gave in to what my body wanted/needed … and it felt amazing. I ate what I wanted within reason, and gained exactly the 25 pounds my doctor recommended (and predicted I would gain). I felt liberated in so many ways, and knew I’d carry with me that feeling into motherhood.

I try to eat balanced meals, but as a new mom, it’s not always easy and, to be honest, we practically never cook these days. I’m not proud of that fact, but it is what it is. We batch cook but not enough … and now that it’s grilling season, we’ll have more of a semblance of routine. Still, we tend to keep healthy options at home that can be thrown together when Maya goes to sleep, or we eat out. And when we do go out, I’m much more fun to dine with. Gone are the days when my husband says he wants pizza and I shoot him down. That said, I’m a Jersey girl at heart and won’t settle for crappy pizza. It has to be the good stuff (i.e., NJ/NY-style) and since I can’t get that here in Michigan … I have found a few local places that come very close to hitting the mark. I’ve learned I function better when I eat what I really want, so I’ll enjoy what I’m eating and I try not to destroy food the way I used to … but I am still guilty of picking all the cookie dough bits from a carton of ice cream and leaving the vanilla ice cream part (it’s hubby’s fave flavor!) for him.

All in all, I am pleased with my food evolution. It took a long time to get here, but I feel good about where I am. I really want to lead by example with Maya and I know it won’t always be easy. Still, I believe between my husband and myself, we can set a good example for Maya … starting with dinners at the table vs the grab-and-dine-in-front-of-the-TV dinners we’ve been having as of late!!! In due time … for now, that’s the least of my worries — but in a few months, she’ll be more aware and it will be important to have the traditional family meal time that I grew up with, that we lack today.

In my family and my husband’s family, food is an integral part of our time together. So above all, I want Maya to view food as pleasurable; something to savor and share with us and with her friends and, someday, her own family. So far, so good — she’s curious about everything we’ve given her and is really enjoying exploring the world of solids.

Let the fun begin 🙂

How about you? Has your food evolution been consistent or in stages? Where would you say you are NOW?


One thought on “Food Evolutions

  1. LOVED this post! I would say I am in the stage similar to when you ate all ff, sugar free, and all “substitutes” phase. I am an all or nothing kind of eater. I am either really focused on my eating and I lose weight very well, or I am binging and falling back into the life of an emotional eater. It is very frustrating. I am working on this evolution as you call it. I am looking forward to when I can say I am recovered!!!

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