Stories are one of my favourite things, ever. Stories are powerful. We have our own stories, we have cultural stories, we have stories of history, stories of the future and stories just for fun. Everything is defined by stories we hear and tell. They can wipe out entire races, peoples and places as though they never existed. They can validate our experiences, or make us live in doubt and shame. We tell stories about our lived experiences to create meaning in our lives; otherwise we are just going through a series of random events that make no sense. Humans like things to make sense, and to have a deeper meaning.
When I see people for nutrition counselling, I’m not often sitting there making sure they have eaten all the nutrients they need, I’m actually listening for their food story.
Our food story is the way we talk about what we eat, and the way we describe our history with food. It is how we give meaning to the food we eat.
Often I find my clients reducing their food story to one of weight; their interaction with food is simply the journey that has lead to fatness or thinness. Sadly this is not just my clients, it really is a societal way we talk about food: “good” “bad” or “fattening” are used in everyday common language to describe food. But reducing food to something that has “made you fat” or is “fattening” does you and the food a disservice.
Can you remember the first meal you truly savoured? What did you like about it? What was so pleasurable about it?
Here is my honest answer: I can remember sitting in my basement as a child enjoying the overly full feeling of a McDonald’s Happy Meal of chicken nuggets, french fries and a chocolate milkshake. Oh how divine. This story for much of my early years carried no shame, just the knowledge that this was a meal I enjoyed, but that I then moved on to whatever else I was into at the time, My Little Ponies or Barbie.
But later, as time pressed on and began to amass the cultural (North American culture) story of shame associated with fullness and “bad” foods, this story carried a different meaning. I became ashamed of my younger self’s food choices, and proud I no longer ate “that stuff”.
Here is the thing: it’s important to tune into what stories you are telling yourself, and what stories you keep hearing. Do they actually ring true to your experience? Or are they something you are simply retelling because it’s the story you’ve heard most often? Sometimes our true stories are quiet inside us, or have been appropriated by the stories told more loudly and frequently. Food does more than change our weight, often it carries with it memories of loved ones, or happy events in our lives, yet we taint it because those happy memories have led to our “weight problem” (pssst actually it was the diet, not the enjoyment).
Food is powerful, but so are the stories we tell about it, so be mindful about the stories you’re telling and listening to about food.