This past weekend I had a birthday.
I turned 26, in a new city, with the help of new friends. And as it happens, some of these new friends are pretty freakin’ awesome. They went above and beyond to make sure my first birthday in San Diego was great. And they gave me cake . . . lots and lots of cake.
Now don’t get me wrong. I love cake. I have a sweet tooth like you might not believe, and I am convinced that cake needs to be included in every birthday (at least, every one of my birthdays). But now, it’s several days later, and I still have more than half of a giant (and delicious) 3 layer german chocolate cake sitting in my fridge.
So what’s the big deal? I know you’re thinking, “you just said you love cake, so this is awesome for you!” Well, not quite. The problem is that I do love cake, but I do not love the way I feel when I eat too much of it, or of any sugar for that matter. But, it was such a sweet and thoughtful present, how can I possibly not eat it all?
I know I am not alone in this dilemma.
Awhile back, I was talking with a client who told me that he was struggling with eating more healthfully because whenever he would visit his grandmother’s house (which was quite often) she would make massive amounts of unhealthy foods to share with him. He felt obligated to over-indulge each and every time, simply to show his grandma how much he cared for and appreciated her.
This mindset is dangerous yet all too common in American culture.
Food is an important part of culture. Yes we need to eat to survive, but humans are also programmed to eat for pleasure. We enjoy foods and seek out foods that, for any number of reasons, make us feel good. Food is an important part of our relationships and overall enjoyment of life.
Somewhere along the line, however, we lost focus on the experience of eating different foods, the pleasure that they bring in the moment, and sharing company with the person who made them. We got busy, life sped up, and we forgot what eating is all about!
Now, our food values are focused primarily on convenience and instant gratification. There is very little focus on where the food came from, how it was prepared, and why it is part of our diet. In this case, the chocolate cake in my fridge is delicious. It is convenient. I can eat it while I am alone and busy with the goings on of my day, and It satisfies my sweet tooth instantly, even though in the long run I end up feeling tired and sluggish from the sugar overload.
But it was a present.
Ah yes, a present from a very thoughtful friend. A friend who spent much time and energy creating this cake for me to enjoy. The fundamental issue with this way of thinking is that it ties food with worth, just as my client had implied his grandma’s worth was in her ability to provide him with lots of food, and he felt this worth must be validated by eating all of the food! It sounds so silly, but this is how many of us feel about food and relationships now, whether we are aware of it on a conscious level or not. It is hard to make the distinction between the actual food and the thoughtfulness and value of the person creating the food. And that, my friends, is why I still have an abundance of cake in my fridge!
On a conscious level, I know that it is just cake. But I still can’t help but feel that if I were to throw it away, somehow it would mean I did not enjoy it and appreciate my friend’s efforts and, more than that, value him as a friend.
Does this sound crazy to you?!
The bottom line is, food is food, and though it is an important part of our relationships and enjoyment, it does not determine the worth of a person and the value of our relationships! Let me repeat, someone’s value as a person in your life is not defined by their ability to share food!
Therefore, we must work hard to value the thought, effort, and generosity that goes into cooking, baking, and sharing, while simultaneously releasing feelings of attachment to the food itself. The value of food comes from the experience, enjoyment, and pleasure of eating it. And when the moments for experience and enjoyment have passed, and what’s left is internal conflict (am I eating this to make someone else feel good rather than myself? Is eating this contradictory to my goals? Will eating this be bad for my physical health?), then the point of eating it in the first place is lost.
I challenge you to start to see your food differently. Focus on its purpose, the nourishment and energy it provides, as well as savoring each delicious bite and enjoying the company and experience of eating, and finally, its story and its significance for fitting into your day. Furthermore, I challenge you to actively find worth in others that is not related to food. Share experiences that enrich your life, both with and without food, and be mindful of which traits you value in those around you and how they are expressed without food.
Good luck my friends, I am listening if you need anything!