After ten years in the restaurant business, I found myself in a food service job, cooking and packing 10,000 lunches at 3 in the morning.
On one of those days at 4 am an enchilada saved my emotional life as it relates to food. It was like I was breaking all the food rules I had learned as a kid, all at once. An inappropriate food at an inappropriate time, and it was delicious fresh out of the oven.
That day, something finally clicked inside of me, that there didn’t have to be all of these rules, that the way I thought about food for my whole life might be wrong. That there was a better way to think about eating. I learned that day that I could change my perception of food.
I can just eat what tastes good when I am hungry.
The back story.
I grew up with lots of rules around food.
There were many labels, good foods and bad foods, breakfast, lunch, and dinner foods.
When I visit my mother, I am reminded about this all the time. She sits down for three meals a day at a particular time, and at each of those meals, she eats certain things, or it’s almost like they didn’t happen. Having the whole family and grandkids for Christmas throws her for a loop because we are all doing our own thing now.
When I was a child, we ate a very healthy diet that included homemade whole wheat bread and fruit and vegetables at every meal. We weren’t allowed to eat sweets at almost any time. I even remember my mother passing out raisins on Halloween. We were that family.
We had so many rules around that I never learned how to control myself around sugary foods. As a teenager, I usually had food hidden in my room so that I could eat the sweets that were not allowed. Or picked up candy bars at the corner store and ate them on the way home. Or I would bake a cake or cookies and then eat and clean up everything so that there was no trace left behind.
I managed my weight by a somewhat extreme exercise routine around my chosen sport of swimming, on top of walking to school and riding my bike whenever I wanted to get somewhere. But, therein lies some of my problems. Because I wasn’t overweight, there was no evidence of having a bad relationship with food, no one (myself included) thought there was a problem.
My fascination with food only continued after college. I loved cooking for myself so much that I decided to change careers and attend culinary school.
The fast-paced world of the food industry saved me once again from blowing up from overeating. I had a lovely addiction to work and working out and food all at the same time. I didn’t have time to lose complete control of my eating while working 60 hours a week.
Now I question all of the rules.
My problem is rules without reasoning don’t make for a healthy relationship with food or anything, for that matter.
Fortunately, being in the food business, taught me to eat food because it tastes good and to eat when I am hungry. You spend the entire day in the kitchen around food, you learn what foods that you truly like and sometimes you eat them when it is inappropriate, like a 4 am enchilada. Another memorable moment was eating a serving of sea bass, on the line in the middle of dinner service, in an open kitchen. I was hidden below the counter enjoying a piece of fish, with some help from my line-mate. It tasted soooo good.
It will take time to learn “what tastes good” and if you are “really hungry.” But I’ve learned that when you are hungry, healthy food will taste good.
Here are my two guidelines that will help you change your perception of food.
Eat something at the wrong time.
Try eating dessert first. I will eat some ice-cream in the late afternoon, and I find that I will eat less food at dinner, and I don’t feel deprived. Eat savory leftovers for breakfast. Quick and easy leftovers are especially helpful if you want to include more vegetables and protein in your breakfast. Traditional breakfast foods are typically high in carbohydrates. You might find that your body feels better after a different type of meal.
Learn to feel hungry.
The most significant benefit that came from trying intermittent fasting was learning what it feels like to actually be hungry. Our culture eats out of routine because the clock says it is time. We are so used to having food all around us that we are never experiencing hunger.
When you take the time to listen to your body, you will learn how hunger feels. When you are searching through the refrigerator after dinner looking for something else to eat, eat the healthiest thing in the fridge, and then decide if you are hungry.
Break out of the typical dietary mindset by changing up what you are doing, and then you can build your new diet on making choices that will make you feel better.
Julie Moreno is a chef and writer, now trying to get more people to cook their own food and understand where it comes from. She lives in the middle of California, where she’s learning to landscape with fruits and vegetables. Find her blog at The Wooden Cutting Board on Twitter @juliehouse and Facebook @thewoodencuttingboard