These are the plates I grew up eating on.
My first lessons about the food I ate (and other people’s opinions about that food) happened on these plates.
Most of those early lessons were the things you’d hope for. Laughter in the kitchen and at the table. The passing down of recipes and traditions. Food as a connector.
In the Caribbean, food is its own love language. When you walk into someone’s house, the first thing they’ll ask you is, “You hungry?” and no matter how you answer that question, plates and bowls will come out.
This is why I grew up knowing food as a source of care, comfort, generosity, welcoming.
And I also learned that food came with rules.
Food had limits and expectations, which the chubby-cheeked youngster that I was seemed to violate exceptionally well. My food choices were regularly teased and openly insulted. Before I’d turned 12, someone close to me suggested I replace dinner with a can of SlimFast.
And all this created a paradoxical pattern:
I reached out for food constantly, as a stand in for the affirmation and comfort that I was craving.
But even though I saw food as a source of comfort, I was also scared of food. I was scared of violating its rules – namely, eating too much, too often, or eating the ‘wrong’ kinds of foods. If I broke the rules, I’d be ‘a bad girl’ and my book nerd, highly sensitive, pig-tailed self was terrified of being bad.
Here’s how I resolved the conflict in my pattern: food became a drug that I only allowed myself to take a hit from when other people weren’t looking.
I became a pro at quickly shoving a piece of cornbread in my mouth and then turning into the open fridge door, or pretending to look for something in one of the cupboards, so that no one would see me chewing.
I wanted nourishment (of many kinds) and I was trying to get it from food. And I was ashamed of my wanting.
Food became a container I could pour my sadness into, and by pouring it all out, I could set that burden down and find a few moments of relief.
But like all temporary fixes, it was temporary. And so the cycle went on and on.
Some people grew up being told they weren’t smart enough, or pretty enough, or they didn’t come from the right part of town. Those weren’t my struggles.
My struggle was being told that my body (and everything I wanted to put in my body) was ‘bad’. That no matter how great my grades, how sparkly my smile, or how successful my parents were, because of this body (and my apparent inability to change it), I would never be good enough.
This is why I do the work that I do. Because I spent a couple decades living up close and personal with the truth that how you feel about your body affects EVERY part of your life.
It showed up in my relationship choices. It showed up in my professional choices. It showed up in the clothes I wore (and the ones I refused to). It showed up in the silent, cruel thoughts I had when I was alone.
That’s why I’m so passionate about deconstructing the idea that your body’s worthiness lies in someone else’s opinion of your thighs.
That’s why I’m quick to call out the twisted cultural logic that says a smaller body is an inherently more beautiful and valuable body.
That’s why I WILL NOT STAND for the lie that your dream partner will only want you if you lose a few pounds. Or that the career growth you want lives on the other side of dropping a dress size.
One piece of the body puzzle is your relationship with food. Is food a source of energy and delight for you? Or is your food story coated in some crusty-looking, dank-smelling goo that needs to be thrown out STAT? If it’s the latter…
Next week, I’m teaching an online workshop called Food as Joy (not a sedative).
For most people, the holiday season brings on mountains of food and the tiniest bit of stress can have even the most mindful person swan diving into the mac n’ cheese. In this workshop, you’ll learn tools and techniques to interact with the buffet table more consciously, so that you enjoy food, instead of using it as an emotional sedative.
Sign up for the workshop HERE.
Your food story is not tattooed on your forehead. It’s not permanent – at least, it doesn’t have to be.
I updated my food story and yes, cornbread and I are still good friends, but we’ve taken our love public and we’ve become more thoughtful about our moments of mouth-to-mouth contact. It’s much more wholesome for both of us. : )
In the workshop, I’ll be sharing more of my story and giving you details galore on the mental and practical shifts that will help you create a saner, kinder and more delicious food story. I hope to see you there!