What does it mean to have a “relationship” with food? Why does it matter? Your relationship with food does not actually have that much to do with the food itself; rather, it’s mostly about the stories you tell yourself about the food, and the beliefs you hold about the food. Cultivating a relaxed relationship with food is all about examining your food stories, and exploring the stories that simply don’t serve you.
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Episode 2 Transcript
Hi. Welcome to the School of Bitchcraft podcast, the show about body sovereignty and how to claim it. I’m your host, Dr. Sabina Singwell, and we have arrived at episode 2!
Today I’m going to talk about something that I just got interviewed about recently for a podcast called After 30. That episode is coming out mid-January, right around the time this episode is coming out, so I’ll link to that After 30 episode in the shownotes here.
One of the things I talked about on that show is what it means to have a relationship with food, and I want to take this episode to elaborate on that a little bit and say a few things I didn’t say over on After 30.
First, what do I mean about a “relationship with food”?.
The idea of being in relation with an inanimate object can seem kind of weird,
but there is, indeed, a relationship there, in much the same way that you can have a relationship with a person
(and, in fact, the way that you relate to food can very much reveal or illuminate the way you relate to some of the people in your life—but that’s a topic for another episode).
Although we can and do give food itself a lot of thought–planning it, preparing it, eating it, cleaning up after it–
our relationship to it is not something we consciously think about very much. But whether you think about it or not, that relationship you have with what you eat can have a big impact on your day to day existence, and therefore, on your whole life,
Because, like Annie Dillard says, “How you live your days is how you live your life.”
Your relationship with food is comprised of the ways that you think about what you eat, the ways you behave around food, the beliefs and judgements you hold about certain foods or qualities or quantities of food.
In other words, your relationship with food does not actually have that much to do with the food itself; the relationship is mostly about the stories you tell yourself about the food, and the beliefs you hold about the food.
What’s most useful about this concept of being in relation with food is that it provides a little bit of breathing room around food that otherwise just isn’t there.
Ordinarily, the meanings that we attach to food are just laminated right on to it, without any kind of inquiry.
Green vegetables, for example, are “good,” and xyz is bad, according to whatever diet is currently all the rage.
(As an aside, it is remarkable to see just how long the list has grown, the list of “bad” or “dangerous” foods. Remember in the old days when basically sugar and like, processed food were the two “bad” things diet culture told us to avoid? With every new fad diet that comes out, more and more food gets vilified, including and especially food that people from cultures around the world subsist on. Truly, when I saw that certain diets were vilifying the humble legume???? That’s when I knew the weight loss world had gone seriously off the rails and I proceeded to eat a giant bowl of lentil salad. DM me for the recipe.)
Anyway, the point is, we hold these judgements about various bits of food, food groups, macronutrients like it’s religious knowledge,
and so the notion of a “relationship” with our food makes space to inquire about that knowledge, allowing us to explore the stories that we laminate onto food, along with our own beliefs and thoughts and memories, fears and judgements.
Let me give you an example: in our diet-obsessed world, there are a lot of people who hold very strong opinions on things like RICE. Brown rice vs white rice, the glycemic index of rice, cutting out rice from low-carb or paleo or keto diets, etc. etc. etc. And then there are the countless cultures around the world for whom rice is a staple of their cuisine.
When we make space to pause and think about our relationship with food, we create space to kind of pry ourselves away from diet-obsessed narratives around rice (“don’t eat white things!”)
and we can create room to reflect on things like: what role did rice play when we were growing up? Did rice sustain my ancestors? Was a bowl of rice a comfort food for me when I was a broke university student? How have diet-based narratives about rice interrupted my enjoyment of rice? How has any guilt I may have had around eating rice undermined my own relationship with myself?
So that’s what I mean about reflecting on your relationship with food.
Now, at this time of year, i.e. January, diet talk is at its maximum volume. You may be a person or have people around you who are vowing to control and change what they eat—again, not change their relationship to food, but change their food, because of the stories that they tell themselves about the food they eat or aspire to eat.
Here’s the deal, though.
–whether or not you “eat healthy” has very little to do with whether or not you have a healthy relationship to food.
–”eating healthy” and having a healthy relationship with food are two totally separate concepts
I would characterize a “healthy” relationship with food is one that is at ease. Think about how you look at Barack and Michelle: you see the ease, the relaxed sense of safety and love they have in their relationship. That’s the kind of relationship that you are entitled to have with food! It’s loving, it’s respectful, and it is fundamentally relaxed and unguarded.
Now, I know that for a lot of you, you might be thinking, “If I had a relaxed and unguarded relationship with food, I would go so hard on the sour cream and onion chips and dip that I would never emerge from their embrace.”
We will talk about this more in future episodes, but I assure you, “going hard” is not what a loving relationship with food (or anything else) is about. That is what an obsessive, grippy relationship is about, one where you are scared of your own needs and whether they will ever be met.
Someone who has a healthy relationship with food doesn’t judge themselves for their food choices. They are relaxed about what and how they eat,
because they feel neutral about what they put in their mouths. They feed themselves what they know will make them feel good, or what will fuel their race, or what will sustain them physically or emotionally through a particular moment. So they feel pretty impervious to the wall of noise and judgement around a lot of food.
This healthy relationship with food is a different concept than having a “healthy” diet.
Indeed, you could have a diet largely comprised of all the foods that you believe are the healthiest from a nutritional standpoint,
and still have an entirely unhealthy relationship with food.
You could eat all the salads in the world, and all the protein and green tea or whatever you think is the apex of a healthy diet (I’m not here to debate that with anyone), and still feel restricted, or stressed, or tight around your food,
and your meal planning, and your eating. And again, that’s because of the stories that you tell yourself about your food, not the food itself.
So opening yourself up to a different relationship with food isn’t about changing your diet or changing what you eat, necessarily. What you eat may change when you shift from a controlled, controlling relationship with food to one of Barack and Michelle levels of ease, or it may not, but either way,
you can’t tell from your external behaviours whether or not you have a relaxed relationship with food. You only know by tuning in to your thoughts and feelings while you’re eating, or while you’re meal planning or while you’re grocery shopping, or while you’re sitting in your chair digesting after having had your meal.
So theoretically, you could subsist mostly on slurpees and cigarettes and have a “healthy” or relaxed relationship with food.
It’s harder, though, to eat things that are considered “unhealthy” and still have a relaxed relationship with food, though, because a) the social pressures to be a perfect eater and b) it’s hard to imagine feeling truly relaxed in a state where your basic nutritional requirements are not being met. So, like, even if you are a person who feels completely judgement-free about their diet of Slurpees and smokes, your body will eventually start craving vegetables.
Ultimately, shifting our relationship with food is about you deciding what kinds of meaning you want to make out of this daily eating experience, that the food secure among us engage in 3, 4, 5, 6 times a day. And yes, if you’re not food secure, shifting your relationship with food is undeniably harder.
If you’re food secure, you can make your eating experience relaxed, joyful, calming or even just plain neutral, or you can make this experience pinched, tense, worried or fraught.
Now, if you’re someone who’s not sure what exactly their relationship with food is, it’s worth spending some time reflecting on it–it’s certainly far more worthwhile than spending time planning your latest diet.
I can tell you, though, that if you are currently on any kind of meal plan or protocol or diet that you are doing because you’re trying to lose or control your weight, you are 100% not in a relaxed relationship with food.
And that’s fine–maybe being relaxed around food is not a priority for you right now. You don’t wanna be Barack and Michelle with your food.
And if this is you, then great–this is good information, and worth exploring and unpacking.
If you are eating a certain way because you’re trying to control your weight, the stories you may want to explore go beyond your food stories.
The real gold here will be in your relationship to your body.
You may want to explore the stories you’ve been carrying around about your body, stories you likely didn’t write yourself, were inscribed upon your body by others, and that you have been trying to manage since then.
Obviously, our relationships with our bodies are a whole other kettle of fish, and so we are going to dive right in to that kettle—ew, or, I’ll have another metaphor—next week. So tune in next week for that.
In the meantime, if there is just one takeaway from this episode, it’s this: if you do want to discover the massive benefits of unpacking your food stories,
like finding confidence, deep self-trust, and a sense of peace in yourself, just know it is possible. That’s all you need to know: it is possible.
If you WANT to move from a stressed, obsessive relationship with food to one that is more joyful but you just don’t know how, you’ve got to subscribe to my newsletter, This Week in Bitchcraft.
Every week, I share lessons for bringing a sense of ease and peace to your relationship not only with food but your body, too. To sign up, just go to schoolofbitchcraft.com/podcast. While you’re there, you can click on the “Work With Me” page if you know that you’ll benefit from one on one coaching from me. And of course, if you want to help spread the word about body sovereignty, be sure to like, subscribe and rate School of Bitchcraft in iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.