Mental Health Monday: My Relationship with Food

Pass the Peas, Please

As a kid, I liked sweets, but I wasn’t exposed to much sugar in my early childhood. In fact, as a treat to snack on during church, my parents would bring a baggies of peas. I remember asking my dad if I liked them, and he said with an unusual amount of emphasis, “You loved them!”

I wouldn’t classify my childhood self as a picky eater. I definitely had things I didn’t like, but I liked and ate enough of a variety that it didn’t ruin anything.

Top dislikes as a kid:

  • peaches
  • white grape juice
  • mixing savory and sweet
  • pecan praline ice cream
  • beans
  • bananas
  • pineapple

Lessons Learned

As I learned about the food pyramid, I remember sometimes actively trying to eat according to it. I would make a deli sandwich with meat, veggies, and cheese, then eat an apple and drink milk to try to hit all the food groups.

I also specifically remember my fourth grade teacher Mrs. Turner telling the class that too much sodium could clog your arteries. From that point on I stopped adding salt to my food. Until like two or three years ago. My family would eat out at a restaurant called The Texican Cafe several times a month. My mom would add salt to the complimentary tortilla chips we got, and purposely add it only to one side of the basket so I could eat unsalted chips. I bet she still doesn’t know that I got into that habit from one lesson in fourth grade.

Teenage Tastes

I had a friend in high school who stopped eating sugar and went from being chubby to being drastically thin. She now looks back at that time and confirms that she had an eating disorder. I didn’t know that at the time, however. She got a lot of attention for slimming down. I also stopped eating sugar for a while. I was already thin, and I don’t remember wanting to lose weight. But I was definitely aware that I didn’t want to get fat.

In high school, I would often skip breakfast. Not for body-image reasons, but because I was rushed in the morning. And I brought my lunch instead of buying food from the cafeteria. But if I didn’t have time to eat breakfast, I probably didn’t have time to pack a lunch. So, I would also frequently not eat lunch. Being a teenager is so crazy. I would stay up all night, go to school, and not eat until after 4pm.

I worried for a while that I had a problem with bingeing. Looking back, I did not. I was just a growing kid who didn’t know that my growth spurts and monthly cycle would make me hungry. I wasn’t particularly interested or skilled at making food, so I would ransack the house for something that I could eat immediately with no preparation.

Diet Culture

In my adult life, once for a about a year, I stopped eating sugar. I don’t remember much significant about the effect it had on me except that I didn’t have as many headaches. I try to go back to that sometimes, but I haven’t gotten away for it for long.

I tried a calorie counting app off and on. But each time it becomes apparent that it’s damaging. I become obsessed with my meals and meal planning, and I don’t want to think about my food that much. And if my calories consumed exceed my calories burned, I end up feeling bad about myself. Not worth it.

I tried the keto diet, and it had a really gross side effect on me. I’m going to describe it in the italicized paragraph below. If you don’t want to know, skip the italics.

After a few days trying to get into ketosis, I started having vaginal discharge in the form of black blood. Black. Blood. Breakthrough bleeding when I wasn’t on my period. And I was taking birth control, which has made all breakthrough bleeding pretty minimal. I stopped trying keto immediately.

I read a book a few years ago called “Have Your Cake and Your Skinny Jeans, Too.” It pointed out how so many women have disordered eating. We label our food choices good or bad all the time. She advocates mending this relationship with food by not letting any food be “off limits.” The book has a lot of good things, and some elements are similar to intuitive eating and stop-when-you’re-full.

But, as I learn more about the damages of diet culture, I realize that this book might still be contributing to harmful societal issues.

I have really enjoyed the women I’ve met in my acting program who help promote body positivity and breaking free of diet culture.

Brain Bites

My relationship with food now is not something I ever expected. My first signal that I am hungry is not a message from my stomach but from my brain. My brain starts sending me negative thoughts. Sometimes I call them prickly thoughts because it feels like prickles of anxiety. And it can very easily bring me into a downward spiral. If I let that spiral go, I will become too depressed to make the effort to get food. It becomes a vicious cycle.

One way I coped was to conquer breakfast. I make the exact same breakfast every day, and at the very least, I have one delicious, hearty, healthy meal every day to help my mental health start in a balanced place.

  • Sourdough toast–because it’s yummy
  • Avocado–because healthy fats make me feel satisfied
  • Banana–potassium is good for avoiding cramps
  • Orange–vitamin C for health and happiness
  • Probiotic drink–for gut health

Then, I started eating basically the same thing every day. It made grocery shopping and meal planning easy.

  • Breakfast–see above
  • Lunch-Peanut buter and Jelly sandwich, apple, chips
  • Dinner–chicken patty melt and steamed veggies

Delicious enough that I’m happy to eat it. Easy enough that I will make it every day. Healthy enough.

Now that I’m working a muggle job with regular hours, I have enough of a dependable income that I can order food. At times when my mental health makes it hard to prepare my own, I depend on delivery.

And I also keep a few things on hand that require no prep, and minimal effort so I can get over the hump of needing calories to feel better:

  • Sparkling water
  • apples
  • protein bars
  • protein shakes

Protein shakes are a big life-saver. It can be easier to drink something than eat something.

So. I think of food as something closer to medicine now. It is the antidote to hunger. And, for me, the symptoms of hunger can be a debilitating depression.

I am still working on my own body positivity and not coveting a different shape or size than I am.


Have you learned anything from pondering your relationship with food?

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