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Friday, January 14, 2011

Feed Your Body; Feed My Soul

      Some people eat to live; some people live to eat....yeah, I'm one of those. When I wake up tomorrow morning, I will begin fantasizing about my egg sandwich. I won't eat it until my kids are fed and busy playing. This is so I can focus all of my attention on a breakfast that is not a microwaved bowl of oatmeal. I will lick the dripping cheese off the side, bite into the side slowly, and pick up the crumbs with my finger tips and lick them off. I will make my little Saturday morning treat last as long as I can and make every carefully measured calorie count. Then, while I sip the rest of my Indian tea. I will begin thinking about what I am going to make for dinner. This will determine what I can eat for lunch. And since, like 95% of  other Americans, I started to "get healthy in 2011," I will allow myself some sort of special treat tomorrow night- just because it's Saturday. Not sure what yet, but I know it will be chocolate. And I will smell it first. I will inhale the chocolate's aroma and feel the serotonin levels in my brain rise. I will eat it as slowly as possible letting each bite melt away on my tongue before taking another tiny morsel into my mouth...yes we're still talking about food.
     Okay, so maybe I like food little bit more than the average person, but I know I'm not alone. If I was alone, there wouldn't be a study released every other week or so telling us all how fat we are. For many of us, food = love. I was raised in an Italian American home, so I can only speak from my own experience here, but I was taught that the way you show someone you love them is to cook for them. Or, if someone has taken time to cook for you, you show her your love by eating her food. We eat out to celebrate accomplishments. We eat in when we need to ease pain. We feed our colds with homemade soup. When I met my husband, we both gained 20 pounds during our first year together. Why? Because we ate ice cream while we cuddled in front of the TV. (Now I'm thinking about Phish Food....damn you Ben and Jerry!) Anyway, so much emotion is wrapped up in food, and there are some schools of thought who claim that we should re-program ourselves so that we can just eat for nourishment. "Food does not love you back." And I don't entirely disagree with this. I lost 50lbs before we got married by learning portion control and accepting the fact that EVERY meal doesn't have to be the most indulgent thing I've ever eaten. But I don't think it's possible to separate the emotion from the dinner table. I don't think we're supposed to. I have a theory......(surprised?)
     Humans are social animals. Thousands of years ago, we lived in small clans as hunter/gatherers (we even describe our species in terms of food). Living in the wild, we were always vulnerable to predators. We had to keep our guard up continuously. As animals, we are most vulnerable during certain activities: mating, sleeping, and not surprisingly, eating. When we would eat, we were sharing a kill. The people we would eat with had to be those who we most trusted and cared for. Most likely, they were a blood relation. When we ate, we naturally let our guard down. Now evolutionarily, we haven't changed much at all in the last few 100,000 years. Our bodies may be fatter, but they work the same. When we share food with others, our guard starts to come down. Think about it, when you make a new friend, what do you do with her? Go out to lunch or get a coffee. First dates are usually out to dinner. When you want to bring someone home to meet your parents, you invite them over to dinner. Breaking bread, sharing a meal is the way we build bonds of trust with other people. Every year when I get my work schedule, I frantically ask around to find out who has the same lunch period as me. And every year, I make a new friend at lunch.
     Now chew on this. So much of our memory is tied to our sense of smell. Why do we even need a sense of smell? Primarily to tell if our food is safe to eat. But it also connects us to moments in our life. In my house, I would wake up on Sunday morning to the smell of garlic and onions sauteing in olive oil. I wouldn't even eat breakfast, I just wanted to dip a chunk of bread in my mother's sauce. (And I would always burn my tongue.) The smell of Halloween: dried leaves, crisp air, and the faint smell of chocolate mixed with plastic inside my candy bag (ew, are those Mary Janes?) The smell of Entemann's Bakery (located a block away from my high school) early in the morning as I ran the mile for gym class...I was so confused in those days. And finally, the smell of rotting mangoes. Outside my "dorm" (I use that word loosely) where I stayed when I studied Sustainable Resources in Costa Rica, there was a mango tree. The mangoes were all over the ground rotting. The smell the sour alcoholic rancid mangoes mixed with the occasional waft of pesticide permeated everything and lingered constantly in the air. (I didn't eat a single mango in Costa Rica. Now I can't get enough of them.) Even the memory of the smells of food evokes emotion.
    Then there are the studies that show that when a mother nurses her baby, both the mother and child experience increased levels of oxytocin. This is a hormone associated with bonding. Incidentally, it is also released in both men and women during orgasms, and is found in high concentrations in couples who are newly in love. Even more interesting is that this same hormone is released in mothers who are not nursing and in fathers when they are feeding their newborn babies. It is a hormone that facilitates bonding. I vividly remember when my second daughter was born and I had to leave her in the hospital NICU when I was released 2 days after I gave birth. I was sitting alone in my living room pumping at 2 in the morning. I remember thinking about how she smelled and feeling the same way that I felt when I had first fallen in love with my husband, longing to hold her. Feeding, eating, bonding....it is all one in the same.
    You see, I don't really agree that food = love, but I do think that SHARING food = love. I don't want to get religious on you, but every week Christians around the world "receive God" by eating a tiny piece of  bread. When we feed people, we are giving them more than sustenance; we are giving them a sacrifice of our time and energy. When we accept food from someone, we are telling them that we trust them, and are grateful for their sacrifice. So, while I do want you to all "be healthy in 2011," I also want you to EAT. Break bread with someone. Cook for someone. Eat slowly. Eat joyfully.  Maybe just cut the portion size down a little.
......BUT if you come over my house for dinner, I WILL cook with butter, and salt. I will put cheese on everything that doesn't have chocolate on it. I will indulge you....why? Because I love you, and I want to make you happy!   Now, go!   Mangia!

2 comments:

  1. Justin has been very disciplined and lost 17 lbs in the past 2 months. I am so proud of him! I am also incredibly frustrated that he won't eat pasta... and I won't make a huge pot of sauce and meatballs for me and Jordan, but I want to make sauce and meatballs to show how much I love my family. As always, so true! It is very hard to love to eat when I really should be eating to live and shed these last 10 lbs that I can't really call "baby weight" anymore... ;)

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  2. I hear you! Making weight watcher's potatoes au gratin tonight to get off the last 30 lbs of baby weight. So make something he loves that fits within his plan!

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