I’m sitting here eating my ginger snaps and milk (which I thoroughly enjoy) while I write this and I’m thinking about food. All food. Part of the reason I became a dietitian is because I love food. I enjoy cooking, shopping, trying new recipes and meal planning. I know a lot of people don’t like doing those things. And that’s okay. But for me, cooking is an art. It is something that I get to share with my family and that makes me happy.
Even if grocery shopping is at the end of your to-do list and you hate cooking, I think we can all appreciate the purposes of food.
Food, of course, nourishes our bodies. It is amazing to me how the body breaks food down and uses the vitamins, minerals, glucose, fatty acids, and protein for all the different functions in our bodies. Food fuels our bodies and provides our bodies with what they needs to function properly. When we go without food, whether it is from famine, food-insecurity, or purposeful calorie restriction (aka dieting), our bodies cannot keep every process going and everything functions below par. Eating enough is literally vital to keeping our bodies in optimal condition.
Food is also for our enjoyment. The textures and flavors of all foods are extraordinary - Spicy Thai dishes, comforting American staples, delicate French desserts. If food were only for nourishing our bodies, we could save a lot of time by just drinking nutritional shakes for every meal and snack. But we like food, and we are supposed to like food. Food can help us feel happy and comforted. Familiar foods can help us feel secure, while trying new foods is exciting and interesting.
All over the world, food brings people together. We eat at parties, celebrations and holidays. We go out to eat to say congratulations to someone who graduated. We bake a cake for a birthday. We meet for lunch with a friend we don’t see often. We bring dinner to someone who is struggling. Food unites us and sets us apart. When we travel we find the similarities and differences between the foods we know and the new foods we try.
Food brings memories back to us. The combination of our sense of taste, smell and feeling the textures of food is so impressionable that we can recall memories around food. I remember the first time I tried a mango. I was probably seven years old and I was upstairs in the bath. My dad came home with a mango and everyone was trying it downstairs. My sister brought me a piece. I remember putting that new fruit in my mouth and thinking that it was the most heavenly fruit I had ever tasted. Beef-wrapped asparagus and wontons remind me of Christmas Eve. P.F. Changs reminds me of when my husband and I were married. Grilled cheese sandwiches remind me of when I was pregnant with my first baby.
Our dieting society wants us to believe that we should be wary around food. We hear labels of “good” and “bad” foods. We hear messages that we need to control and restrict our food intake. Our dieting society tells us that we need to be worried, obsessed, or even fearful of food. But here’s the truth: Food not only fuels our bodies, but is for our enjoyment and pleasure. Food can help us feel comforted, bring memories back to us and connect us with other people.
Take a moment and think about how you view food. When you think of food and eating, do you feel nervous, scared, anxiety, guilt, shame or apprehension? Or do you feel content, excited, happy, or unconcerned with your next meal? Re-evaluate your thoughts and see if you need to improve your relationship with food. Because food is wonderful!