People size me up and down and sneer, “You’re not overweight so what do you know about issues with food and eating?” Well, perhaps I haven’t been overweight, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t had food issues. Dysfunctional eating can take many forms: eating too fast, too much, or too much of the wrong foods. Perhaps we obsess about foods, or eat in periods of high stress and peaked emotions.
For me, food issues surfaced in my life at age nine. At that time, my mother, who I now realize was rather ahead of the curve, jumped on the “health nut bandwagon,” immersing us in deciphering nutrition labels and shopping at obscure health stores that sold things like wheat germ and bee pollen. In the 1970s, it wasn’t quite “hip” to be into the healthy food trend, and 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 peanut butter and banana sandwiches – an anomaly in the cloud of Wonder Bread lunches that filled the school lunchroom. I’d come home crying only to hear my mother proudly proclaim, “the whiter the bread, the quicker you’re dead!”
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. 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.
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 for having a mother who has uncovered my life’s purpose.