I used to believe that my mom was a wacked-out health nut. Back in the late 1970s, she suddenly began making us eat vegetables in all forms, removing every granule of sugar from our house, and shopping at health food stores that reeked of wheat germ and bee pollen. Maybe that doesn’t sound too rough nowadays, but at the time, it wasn’t “hip to be healthy”. As a pre-teen sensitive to peer scrutiny, it became sheer humiliation for me. I suffered the daily embarrassment of my home-packed lunches containing dark-brown bread sandwiches filled with freshly ground peanut butter and sliced banana – an anomaly in the cloud of Wonder Bread lunches that floated in the school lunchroom. I’d come home crying only to hear my mother proudly proclaim, “the whiter the bread, the quicker you’re dead!”
Now, fast forward about 30 years and you’ll find me not in the candy aisle at the supermarket, but in front of people lecturing about the benefits of healthy eating. My greatest fears, embarrassment, and humiliation about foods have transformed to become my life’s path.
My bitterness about being different because of my diet may have spurred me on to eating emotionally as a teenager, rebelling against my earlier years of food-ascetism. Freedom for me was eating what I wanted, and often, I would go overboard to feel in control. Surprisingly, despite my early days of food terror, I began studying nutrition in college. When I entered graduate school, I realized that many students had eating issues of some variety. We were unified not only by the fact that as humans, we relied on food for survival, but perhaps because our experiences with eating had been slightly twisted in life. I came to the understanding that studying nutrition to bite-sized bits was one way to heal ourselves.
Simultaneously, I spent much of my time soul-searching to fill in the gaps of my pursuit of truth. Merging science and spirituality through the vehicle of food has been a therapeutic experience for me. I realized that when I “inhaled” food, I was skimming through life on a fast track, feeling stressed. When I fixated on foods and binged, I was being obsessive in my life. The experience of eating opened a new door of growth for me. I realized that my relationship with food and eating represented other aspects of my life. Gradually, I began to work with others to show them the same patterns. I gave workshops, classes, and even wrote a book on it.
I truly, wholeheartedly believe that there is nothing that fills my soul like helping people to connect their bodies and souls through foods. One of the most important lessons I’ve digested is that if we are open to it, the relationship we have with food is complex, full of metaphor, and healing. But more than that, I am grateful to have a mother who uncovered my life’s purpose through her beliefs about food.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.