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There’s No Food In My Food

As I sit in the drive-thru waiting for my vanilla shake, it occurs to me that I have a first-world relationship with food. What I’m eagerly anticipating to consume isn’t about feeding my body. In a physical sense, I don’t need a luscious, creamy, cold, smooth, delicious vanilla shake.

But I sure do want one.

In my life, food past long ago beyond the role of necessity, and into the realm of luxury and accessory.

While I may eat because I’m hungry, I don’t do so with a mindfulness about nourishing my body. Quite often my aim is convenience. I go to fast food because it’s quicker and easier than preparing something myself. I buy prepared foods because it’s faster and easier to open a box and add water than it is to do all the peeling and chopping required when you cook from scratch.

But I don’t only eat because I’m hungry. I eat because I’m happy. I eat because I’m sad. I eat because I’m bored or because the food is just super appealing. For example, I already know cake tastes good, so you wouldn’t think I’d feel the need to try it every time I see it. But I do.

Sometimes I eat as part of an experience. Even though I watch countless movies at home without it, I can’t go to the movies without buying my hot buttered popcorn. That salty, buttery, crunchy treat is part of the joy and fun of going to the movies. In my family, food is a central part of every event. Birthdays, weddings, funerals, religious and secular holidays – there’s gonna be a spread laid out no matter what the occasion. And there are different foods associated with different events; it wouldn’t be Easter at my house if there weren’t a ham. And mashed potatoes and broccoli casserole and rolls and green beans…

Food has become a part of my emotional landscape.

But the real purpose of food is to nourish the body. The idea of food as actual nourishment conjures pretty pictures in my head: amber waves of grain swaying gently in the breeze, green shoots rising up from rich brown earth. I envision fruits and vegetables and seeds and grains, ripe and full and colorful, bursting with the vitamins and minerals and proteins I need. Tree branches laden with apples or cherries or lemons or peaches. Deep green lacy leaves of kale. Juicy, red, ripe, plump tomatoes. Ah, how the earth provides what I need to live and grow and be strengthened. I twirl in a circle in a field of wheat, my frothy summer dress floating around me, and when I pluck a golden stalk, the sun glints off the grains as they flow between my fingers. In slow motion.

In my head it’s a beautiful thing. In reality it’s a lot of hard work. So I pick up some dinner at the drive-thru or I throw a can of something on the stove. Maybe I toss a frozen dinner in the microwave. It’s easy, quick, convenient. 

But the thing is, there’s no food in my food. We have taken what the earth naturally produces and turned it into something different. We’ve genetically modified it, sprayed it down and injected chemicals into it. Prepared foods are scientifically engineered to please and addict us. Chemicals are added to make them crunchier or sweeter or saltier or smoother. More chemicals make them last longer. Still more chemicals are added to mask the taste of all the other “additives”. We’re not even tasting what we think we’re tasting.

It’s like having a real strawberry and a child’s plastic strawberry on a plate; we have been conditioned to desire the plastic fruit. It smells better, it tastes better, it has a better texture. It fits perfectly in our mouth, and when we bite down there is just the right amount of juice, just the right amount of pith. We think it’s the superior fruit, because it was designed to make us think so.

I’ve come to understand that the foods I want to eat are very nearly not food at all.

But still I want them.

As I take another drag of vanilla deliciousness, I joke to myself that I might as well apply it directly to my thighs. But the truth is that doing so would be just as effective, because the benefits of this milk shake are purely cosmetic. It tastes good. I enjoy consuming it. It gives me a sugar rush. It makes me happy. It satisfies an emotional craving and gives me comfort after a tough day. But the value is all on the surface, and the positive effects are temporary.

Still, while my shake doesn’t serve food’s primary purpose, the purpose it serves is compelling.

I’ve been working on my eating habits for over a year now. That seems like a long time, but it’s really tough to turn away from the delicious, easy, delicious and just really tasty foods that I crave. And that’s before you add in boredom and event eating and food “therapy”.

I am only just now coming to a point of real change, but even so, it’s still not about wanting healthier foods.

I want to be healthy. And I want  to want apples and broccoli and salmon and kale and blueberries and tomatoes and quinoa. But I don’t yet have a natural desire for those healthier foods. What I desire is McDonald’s and doughnuts and ice cream and Cheetos and Chinese take-out and Mexican sit-in and easy and fast.

I realize it’s not all my fault. I realize that billions upon billions of dollars have been spent by the food industry to find the magic formulas that will keep me coming back for more. Just the right fat, just the right salt, just the right sugar. The right crunch. The right size. The right smell. They know how to blend the flavors so I don’t get tired of it too soon. And they know exactly where that taste should hit on my tongue so it’ll disappear quickly and I’ll keep chasing the flavor rush.

But I am the one with my hand in the chip bag. I still want those chips, but it’s my responsibility to take control of my wants. It’s my responsibility to change my patterns of thought and behavior.

At this point, my changed mindset is not about what I want, but what I don’t want.

I don’t want to consume chemicals masquerading as food. I don’t want to be fooled by labels that purposefully mislead consumers into thinking a food is healthy, when even a cursory glance at the ingredients clearly shows that it’s not. I want my Hamburger Helper and SpaghettiO’s (with meatballs), but I don’t want all the junk they’re made of.

Change is hard for me, and life-long habits do not get altered overnight. Still, I honestly didn’t think this would be a multiple year project. But I haven’t given up, and I’ll accept that as the win it is. 

I may still be at the beginning stages of this food attitude adjustment, but at least I’m making some progress. I’ve understood what I was putting into my body since the beginning of last year, but I was so ingrained in my eating habits that I resisted change: “It hasn’t killed me yet, so one more fast food won’t either.”

But now I’ve gotten to the point where I’m saying, “My body deserves better.”

And it really does. So I’ll keep working on it, and be glad that at least I’m thinking about what I don’t want to ingest anymore. And each positive choice will build on the new eating habits I’m forming. Eventually I’ll start actually craving fresh fruits and vegetables and all that healthy stuff.

Maybe someday I’ll even look forward to and enjoy the time and effort it takes to cook from scratch.

But one step at a time, right?

Items of Interest:

Here’s an interesting article about the science of processed food, engineered cravings, & the fat/salt/sugar magic formula: Food Cravings Engineered by Industry

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25 Comments Post a comment
  1. Stay with it! The body will eventually get the message:)

    March 28, 2013
    • Thank you! I know it will, I just have to keep trying and be patient with myself. 🙂

      April 6, 2013
  2. You are wise! I agree intellectually about the non-food aspect of what we put in out mouths, especially in the fast-food category of drive-thrus and quick-fixes. But I too still do not always make the healthier decisions about the food I eat. As you say, small steps. I recently wrote a post about Barbara Kingsolver–I am eager to read her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle where she explores the food we eat and her family’s attempt to grow their own and eat locally. Happy and healthy eating! I am wondering where Cadbury chocolate mini-eggs and other goodies from the Easter Bunny fit into this picture.

    March 28, 2013
    • I saw your post – I’ll have to check that book out too. I’ve been really thinking lately about trying to grow some things for myself. Maybe not this year, but next year – one step at a time!

      April 6, 2013
  3. I could have written this post myself. Because I run a lot, I pretend this gives me a free pass to eat whatever I want. If I had my way and didn’t have to worry about hardened arteries and diabetic comas, I would eat cookies and cake every single meal. I don’t enjoy cooking and really, really struggle to make the time to cook healthy foods. I wish it were otherwise.

    March 28, 2013
    • Me too. I can sometimes enjoy cooking, but mostly I don’t. It just really feels like a chore most of the time. But I figure I’ll keep concentrating on my thoughts and changing those first. And my actions will more and more come into line with my thoughts. I just started going to the gym, and I hope that as I get in better shape, my energy levels will increase. Maybe that will help?

      You do have more leeway with calories, I’d think. But you’re right, it’s about a lot more than that. We have to be taking care of our bodies so they can support us into our old age!

      April 6, 2013
  4. wow! that was amazing. you have come such a long way. thank you so much for sharing!

    March 28, 2013
    • Thanks Vicki! And thanks for all of your help and encouragement!

      April 6, 2013
  5. I think most people in this country have the same eating habits. We want what we have been taught by media to want. I have been trying to be better about my choices. I have done well in 2 areas. I have had 1 coke since the end of Dec. and very little chocolate and meat no more than 2 times a week.. Considering the fact that I drank 2 or 3 cokes a day and had chocolate more than once a day and meat everyday for years I think it’s a good step. If I can do it so can you.

    March 28, 2013
    • Media is a big part of it – they know just how to advertise! Great work on the coke and chocolate! Coke/soda can be such a big addiction. I was drinking nothing but Diet Dr. Pepper, pretty much no other liquid being consumed. It’s a mental and physical addiction. I’m mostly off it myself, but still need to increase my water. I’m not even trying to reduce my meat consumption, but I am doing free-range, no antibiotic, chemical free (if possible) everything, though. Congratulations on your success! 🙂

      April 6, 2013
  6. Reblogged this on Vicki Manuel and commented:
    This is a blog post from a fellow blogger and my client. She has come such a long way and I am very proud of her. Change doesn’t come overnight but you can start the change overnight and that is exactly what she has done. Please take a moment and read her blog post.

    March 28, 2013
  7. Well written. You write with deep, sincere honesty and could be the voice of almost any woman. You’ve been experiencing a mind shift which is moving you closer toward your goals. Rock on!

    March 29, 2013
    • Thank you Julie! One step at a time, right? And I guess the mental aspect is the hardest to get right.

      April 6, 2013
  8. We’ve all been conditioned to eat the way we do. And the convenience of fast food is hard to fight. We had a big shove to motivate us to eat better. The good news is that we can slowly unlearn bad eating habits. I’ve gone from a “meat only” diet to a mainly vegetavle one. Once you experience the benefits, there’s no turning back 🙂

    March 30, 2013
    • I think about you and your husband often and I wonder, “if I *had* to make an immediate change, could I do it?” I don’t think it would be easier to accomplish, but I wonder if a real health scare would *make* me do the hard work.

      What frustrates me the most is that I felt so very good at the start of last year after I adopted better eating habits. And even though I remember how great I felt, I have not mustered the motivation to get that back again for myself. I think that it’s just me having to work my way through it and doing it in a way that will be a lasting change. But I get so mad at myself for not having a stronger willpower to make big changes right now.

      April 6, 2013
  9. All of that so-called food that has been processed by large corporations is designed to get you addicted. And it works. Preparing real food doesn’t have to take a lot of time and effort, but it takes time to switch over. When I was young I was addicted to processed carbohydrates – donuts, sweet rolls, etc. Now I rarely eat any processed food and would rather have a fresh, ripe mango than just about anything outside of a bite of dark chocolate. All we have to do is keep moving in the right direction.

    March 31, 2013
    • It really works! It’s amazing how much money and how many years they put into the research and development. And there are so many chemicals that some of our foods are very close to being plastic.

      I want to be where you are! I will keep at it and keep “moving in the right direction”. I know it will come, but I am so impatient with myself and the process.

      April 6, 2013
  10. Yeah, and don’t forget Baskin Robbins and Panera chocolate pastries and BK BIg Fish chased down with a giant Dr. Pepper…! I am also finding it to be a multi-year challenge. I thought that when I eliminated wheat, sugar and dairy from my diet (well, mostly, except for when I don’t) the extra pounds would immediately melt away. They did for my family but my fat cells are made of sterner stuff. As are my cravings. Sigh. Looks like we are in the same boat 🙂

    April 2, 2013
    • I love that: “well, mostly, except for when I don’t”. Last year with my resolutions, I would get so very mad at myself when I failed even just a little bit. Since then I’ve realized that last year was all about learning to be patient with myself and to accept who I am. I still get frustrated with myself and I get mad at myself. But, it’s getting way better and I’m better able to keep going even after I fail.

      Thanks for sharing that you are also on the multi-year challenge! It’s a lot easier to be in that boat with someone else than to be alone! 😀

      April 6, 2013
  11. I will admit I didn’t read the whole post…I skimmed it…I got hungry! J/K! I hope your plan works out. For me, when my foot isn’t in my mouth, food is or I am thinking about it or what is next. I ENJOY food! I look the part too. Okay a bit over kill on the thinking part but I do see or think about something (food) and try to get it at an up coming meal. Doesn’t have to be immediate or the exact next meal but somewhere down the road. I guess craving would be the word?
    My problem is I find the weight others have lost! 🙂

    April 6, 2013
    • Skimming is okay – sometimes posts are just long, haha. I’m like you in that I really enjoy food as well. I love the taste of great food and just don’t want to stop tasting it! I didn’t write about that, but it’s definitely another factor. And the cravings get me too. I’m trying to go with that and if I crave something I give in, but in a smaller portion. It doesn’t help me to be have that craving take over my thoughts – you hit it on the money there, where the craving thoughts just won’t go away!

      April 7, 2013
  12. Ever since we had kids, I’ve been more conscious of the food we bring in the house. I’m not a cook, so don’t come to me for motivation on home-cooked meals. Though I buy organic, I buy many packaged meals, which negates the organic thing, eh? At least, from the health standpoint.
    I’ve been obsessed with food lately. Obsessed. I gave up ice cream for Lent, and while I abstained from ice cream, I apparently binged on other things in its place. The end result – gaining just over 10lbs. The kind of slow steady gain that doesn’t drop off quickly.
    Now I am trying to remove myself from food, letting myself know I can have ice cream if I want it – I need not feel it necessary to compensate for it.
    Anywho… there may be a bit of food in my food, but I’m more bogged down by the thoughts of food in my brain – even when I am busy doing other things. Argh.
    Keep working on it. Keep working on it…

    April 13, 2013
    • With the organic/packaged food thing, I would just look at it as you’re doing at least half good – that’s better than all bad. It’s so hard to get away from prepared foods, because they’re so easy and convenient. And it’s like everything out there has some kind of bad ingredient in it, so what are you going to do?

      As you see here, I’ve been eating my comfort foods – and gained 20 pounds in the last few months. So I got you beat there – wait, I don’t think I want to win that one, haha. But it happens. I’m also trying to not get myself too worked up about it, because that just makes me shut down and give up. But, I do need to get myself going in the right direction. Like you said, it’s hard to keep your brain from being bogged down with it.

      April 13, 2013
      • Yes, I try to keep the voices calm, because I know the whole ‘shut down’ and give up thing. I don’t want to go there – even if I have to rock back and forth – and back and forth – to avoid it. (smile)

        April 13, 2013

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